Emily woke up shaking. The feel of a cold wind rushed over her as she reached for her covers. She looked around wondering where the draft was coming from, but it was far too dark to see anything. The wise thing would be to get up and turn on the light, but it was so cold she found herself burrowing deeper into the covers hoping to find warmth against the chill creeping up her body. The breeze was strange. She knew her windows were closed, considering she never opened them, as it were, she wasn’t even sure if they could open. The one door to her apartment was securely locked, she always double checked before bed. Even unlocked it wouldn’t be open, and it opened to the interior of the building, so no chance of this sort of breeze even if it had been.
She continued to shiver, but the inexplicable wind had died as suddenly as it had been born. Her head popped out of the covers, listening for its sound, but all was quiet again. Maybe she was just dreaming. Emily fell back on her pillow exhausted. The dark snuggled around her, holding her close, promising to keep her safe if she just closed her eyes and went to sleep. She’d never been one to have trouble falling asleep. On the contrary, sleep hit her like clockwork. When it was time for bed she was out. Yet, here she laid wide awake with the unsettling feeling something was terribly wrong. Even beyond the freezing wind that had appeared out of nowhere. It was gone but the feeling that the world wasn’t right still lingered.
The twin bed squeaked ever so slightly as she rolled over trying to find a comfy position to send her off to dream land. She shifted again and again; each movement followed by the notable squeak. Finally frustrated she sat up. As soon as she was upright her body stiffened. The bed was silent. She bounced for good measure, but the predictable squeak didn’t follow. This was ridiculous. So what if the bed didn’t squeak. That should be a good thing. The sound was annoying, but she never had the money to replace it. Silence should be a welcomed change. This was the mantra she played in her head as she laid herself gently back on the tired mattress. Her body pressing down into the fluff and springs pretending to relax and ignoring the missing noises and phantom breezes. This may all just be a dream. It’d be better to relax than stress over what might just be all in her head anyway.
However, sleep continued to allude her. Instead, her eyes stared into the darkness with a growing sense of unease. Hours ticked by like this until rays of daylight began to filter in from the living room, chasing away the night and revealing only the sight of her home as it always was. No scary monsters or mysterious changes. As everything came into focus her body finally began to release the tension that had been holding her muscles immobile. Her eyelids felt the heaviness that longed for sleep to take over right as her alarm went off.
It was an old fashion analog clock. No glowing numbers to bother the dark and no snooze button to delay the inevitable. Only a tiny metal hammer bouncing between two bells ensuring she had to get up. The hands that reached to grab it were sluggish and there was a brief moment it seemed she’d forgotten how to turn it off, but her fingers found the off switch and the merciful click brought silence once more.
As Emily pushed herself up from the bed, a wave of dizziness washed over her and the sensation that something was wrong came rushing back. However, in the light of day it was harder to let the thought take hold of her once more. She was simply sleep deprived and needed to force herself to get up and ready. Each step to the kitchen landed heavily on the carpeted floor, while the process to get the coffee maker working became an excruciating task. Her hands continued to fumble as before until at last the pleasant aroma came pouring out of the small appliance. Just enough for a cup. As the last dregs dripped out, she found herself inspecting her surroundings. The memory of the breeze played through her mind, but as she suspected there were no open windows and the door was firmly closed and locked. Maybe the AC was malfunctioning. An excuse she happily accepted in order to brush off any worries lurking around.
As she stood in her small kitchen sipping her coffee, she stared blankly into the living room when suddenly her body snapped to alert as she zoomed in on the bookshelf across form her where pictures of her family once sat.
They were gone.
Rushing over, she found everything else as she remembered it, but no signs of the frames; not even a dust outline from where they had stood for years. The first thought of being robbed was quickly tossed aside. Who steals photos and leaves actual valuables behind? Then again, someone sneaking in through the window at night could explain the cold draft she’d felt. Even as this time of year was unlikely to bring such a harsh breeze in. Regardless, who takes picture frames?
Emily sat there staring at the shelf mulling it over. There had been at least three frames there, or had it been only two? Her eyes were roving over the blank spaces when a sound like something scratching along the walls filled the room. It wasn’t loud, but noticeable as it continued. It was like something rough being dragged within the walls, back and forth. She spun around looking for a source, but there was nothing she could see, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something inside the walls making that sound. Like the wind it quickly faded away. As it did, she found herself watching the colors on her walls changing from a cheerful bright yellow to the somber off white that all rooms start as.
The shock of what she was witnessing trapped her in place, watching her world change right before her eyes. As the moment passed, she rushed to her bedroom to pick up a pair of jeans that had been tossed on the floor and yank them on. She almost fell in the rush to be dressed. But as soon as they were snapped on, she jammed her feet into her tennis shoes by the door and ran out of her apartment. She didn’t know what to expect, but she wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not that the stairwell she stepped into still appeared normal. It was fairly clean for an older building, the steps spiraling down to the two levels below. She wanted to keep running, but she wouldn’t make it far without her purse.
Pausing to even her breathing she stepped back into the place that had been her home for so long. The door slowly swung inward revealing her home looking in most ways like it should, but the things that were different were too noticeable to ignore. She’d seen it with her own two eyes. Her photos had disappeared and her walls had just changed colors.
Slowly moving her foot inside the apartment with the air of a person ready to bolt at the slightest incident, she gently closed the door back, almost afraid to make a noise. As if the apartment might notice she was back and decide to change some more. Breaking her habit, she chose not to lock the bolt, wanting to be able to get out as quickly as humanly possible should the need arise.
Unsure what to do, she made her way to the bathroom. The small medicine cabinet above the sink reflected her image back to her. A slight girl with mousy brown hair that was a mass of tangles from a night of tossing and turning. Her dark blue eyes stared out of a pale face. This was her. This was normal her. Maybe the bags under her eyes were a little heavier than usual, but this was what she looked like. She hadn’t changed. She grabbed a brush to yank through her hair. Only wanting to focus on her reflection and not risk seeing anything of her world altering around her.
Was she losing her mind?
She couldn’t be. It was a simple fact that her walls had always been yellow, and those three picture frames had always sat on that shelf. Or was it just two pictures? It had been her family. One of them was a sparkly blue frame around the image of them on that trip. The one where they went… they’d been at… somewhere.
The other was a pink frame with her and her… sister? Mom?
Hadn’t there been another?
As Emily stared into the mirror, she saw her lip trembling and her eyes going wide as she struggled to recall the basic details of those pictures. The more she tried to remember it the more it all began to fade away. The distinct sound of paper being ripped to shreds filled her mind. The clang of her hairbrush falling into the sink echoed in the small room as she clapped her hands to her ears. What was that noise?
She had to get out of there.
Running like her life depended on it, she snatched her purse off the counter and ran to the door, but as she jerked on the knob the door merely rattled but remained securely in the wall. Her fingers ran over the locks, flicking at them to make sure they hadn’t accidentally latched, but there was no reason for the door to refuse her exit, and yet it did. Dropping her purse as she manically rattled the door with all her might, she saw her phone slide out. Giving up on her futile attempts to exit, she instead snatched the lifeline to the outside world up and immediately hit redial. She’d just been talking to her friend the night before. Maybe she could come over. Figure out what was going on.
“Hey, I’m sorry, this may sound strange, but I need your help.” Emily tried to keep her voice calm even as a roil of emotions ran through her.
“Who is this?” Her tone was clearly one of confusion, which startled Emily out of her panicked plea for help.
“Emily? Do I work with you or something?”
“No. I mean yes we work together, but you’re my best friend. We just talked last night.” Emily’s mind was racing as she glanced at the screen of her phone to verify, she had called the right person. This was her friends’ number, her voice, this was the woman she’d known almost all her life.
“I’m sorry I think you have the wrong number. Who are you trying to call?”
“You… umm. You.” Her voice stuttered as she realized she couldn’t remember her friends’ name. She had to though. She looked back at her phone but there was only a number there and no name to go with it.
“If you’re in trouble you should call 911. But I don’t know you.” With that there was nothing but a beep of someone hanging up and then Emily was once more alone.
Emily sat there on the floor glancing around at her world that looked to be dissolving before her eyes, and once more the scratching noise reverberated around her walls and something being torn and ripped cut away at her mind.
Why couldn’t she remember her best friends name? Why couldn’t she remember who were in those pictures that had disappeared? What was happening to her? A cold wind hit her in the face, chilling her to her core as she once more desperately pulled at the door to let her out. Still, it remained resolved in its decision to keep her firmly inside. Her mind raced for ideas. She just knew she had to leave the apartment. If she got out then she could find help. Stop whatever was happening to her.
She turned to her kitchen and pulled open a drawer full of random objects, one of which was a long flat head screwdriver. She didn’t let her mind take in the fact that her coffee maker was no longer on the counter above the drawer or that even the cup she’d set aside with its steaming contents was now missing. Instead she focused on the solid feel of the tool in her hand. The one that would be her key to freedom. With all her might she jammed it in between the door and its frame and began to pry it open. The sound of wood cracking was a happy noise to drown out the scratching and the shredding that continued on without hesitation. Jamming the screwdriver in over and over, cracking and prying pieces off until finally the door broke open.
She released a sigh of relief at the sight of the stairs leading to the outside world. If she had her way, she would never step foot in this place again. Maybe she’ll just go outside and walk and walk and never look back. She was going to be okay now.
As she moved to exit this nightmare the door slammed back in place blocking the way to the beyond. Across it scrolled in a messy handwriting read the words: “Decided to delete Emily. Her character was unnecessary.”
Emily stared at the words for a moment as the sound of a pencil scratching through her world faded and the ripping sound of paper being torn apart slowly began to abate. She turned to look at an apartment that was empty of all contents and memories. A bare plane with nothing but her left in it. And then Emily disappeared as well.