I woke up in a strange bed and really had to pee. I made my bladder wait a minute while I figured out where I was. The pale moonlight coming through the window was much weaker than the streetlight back home, but it was bright enough to show me the quilt crumpled at the foot of the bed. Delicate hand stitched purple flowers twined through frail green vines. Grandma’s house.
I exhaled a sigh, remembering this was where I’d been banished for the summer. I would have preferred to go to Thailand with my dad, but he was on no-kids-allowed-business-trip.
I kicked off the light-green sheet and promised myself again that I’d stop drinking root beer right before bed. Maybe then I’d sleep through the night for once.
My bare feet hit the nubby softness of the rag rug by the bed, then a few steps later, the cool wood of the floor. I grabbed the door handle and turned it slowly, not sure if this door was a creaker. Pleased with its silence, I padded out into the hall and down to the bathroom.
Skipping the overhead light, I took care of business. Headed out the door again, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The strange angles from the night-light’s glow turned my face into a death mask. Large hollows lurked beneath my cheekbones. My eyes were burrowed dark sockets peering out from under moss-dark bangs.
Startled, I reached out and flipped on the overhead lights. The face I was used to seeing peered back at me. My eyes were their normal green, with the usual hint of insomnia-induced shadow underneath. Dark brown hair curled chaotically to my brows and shoulders.
Satisfied that I had not turned into a ghoul, I turned the light back off and headed for bed.
Just as I reached my door I heard a long, slow squeak behind me. I paused. Swallowing my pounding heart, I turned my head, expecting to see a sleepy Gran. Instead, I watched the door the to the furnace closet swing slowly shut.
I know it’s really childish to be afraid of strange noises in the dark, but I couldn’t help it. I ran. Three steps from my bed, I jumped, landing in the middle. In one motion, my head hit the pillow, my hands grabbed sheet and quilt and jerked them over my head. My cave of covers would protect me from the mass murderer slinking down the hall.
I lay perfectly still, trying to bring my frantic breathing under control. Like a possum pretending to be dead.
A minute later when I was miraculously still alive, I started to feel really silly. So glad that no one had witnessed my stunning display of immaturity, I lowered the covers from my head and peeked out into the room.
I hadn’t closed the door behind me, so I could see out into the hallway. No serial killer was waiting there to pounce on me. Only the wedding picture of my mom and dad that hung on the wall across from the guest room looked back at me. My heart started to settle back into my chest only to be launched back into my throat. Someone had appeared in the doorway.
Well, it was shaped like a person, anyway. But it wasn’t solid. Through its head I could still see the blurred picture of my mom and dad. It was like looking through a thin layer of swirling milk.
I froze. My mouth went dry. My heart stopped moving in my chest. It felt like even my breath was locked, air hardly slipping in and out.
The figure began to move toward me. From the waist down, it looked like it was walking, but without any vertical bounce. It crossed the few feet of open floor, reaching the side of my bed in a matter of moments. The only movement I could manage was to tighten the grip of my fingers on the covers I clutched just under my chin.
Suddenly I felt the edge of the bed sink a few inches. The shape was sitting next to me. Through its cloudy form, I could see the indent of its weight on the covers and mattress. Then it touched me.
One human-shaped hand reached out and came to rest on my knee. Everything was okay. I could breath again, my heart picked up a normal rhythm, and I felt at peace. Love and comfort flowed through that hand in a touch I could never forget. It was my mom.
As peaceful as I felt in her presence, I couldn’t hold back the tears. As my arms slowly relaxed down to rest on my stomach, the tears began to slip gently from the corners of my eyes and roll to the pillow.
She sat with me for a few minutes, rising and silently drifting from the room long before I was ready for her to leave. The moment she was out of sight, I rolled onto my side, hugging my pillow close against my chest. Sobs began to tear loose, shredding up from my gut and out into the room. I had held them down for so long that the air they contained tasted stale.
I don’t know how long I cried. It seemed like forever. When the last sob finally trickled out of my mouth, I felt pure. I sucked down great big gulps of fresh, new air.And then I slept. Deep, dreamless sleep that I hadn’t experienced for almost a year.