The Devil's Hour

January 2021

Devils Hour Hero

“I have to find out, Marie. Have to end it. Can’t go on like this.

I still love you. Even if you don’t love me back. Look after Lucy.

If you wake up at 3:33am, don’t look outside.”

That’s what my husband’s note said. The note he left before he vanished. Just walked out the house in the middle of the night, and never came back. Front door wide open, his car still parked on the drive, his clothes still hanging in the cupboard. He even left his toothbrush.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. It’s just hard to know exactly when that was. Liam and I had been married for almost eight years, but had been having problems for more than half that. After our daughter was born, our sex life fizzled out, and I suppose things spiralled from there. We could never quite get on the same page, and every small thing would inevitably lead to massive arguments. When old frustrations don’t get chance to evaporate, they just sort of simmer beneath the surface, and I think we were both guilty of spilling over the edges at the slightest increase of heat. Eventually we just found it easiest to stay out of each other’s way. We each had dominion over different chores (he cooked, I cleaned) and generally the only time we spent together was sleeping.

One particular morning, as I stirred from my dreams, I was surprised to find him sat up in bed, propped against the backrest and staring forward into space. Normally once Liam was awake, he was up and about. Maybe it was because of his work, or his outdoor hobbies, but he had always been a morning person. He noticed I was awake and snapped himself out of whatever thoughts he’d been ensnared in.

“Everything OK?” I asked.

“Just tired,” he said, stretching like a bear out of hibernation, as if to exaggerate the point. He clambered out of bed, and paused, as if hesitating whether to tell me something. As he dressed, his voice took on an air of forced casualness. “Woke up in the middle of the night, and checked the clock. Tossed and turned for what felt like hours, and when I looked back at the clock, it was still the same time.”

“Must have misread the clock the first time,” I yawned, rolling over and closing my eyes.

I could hear him muttering to himself as he put his socks on. Something about never believing him about anything. If my eyes were open, I would have rolled them.

The rest of that day was normal enough. He took Lucy to school and went to work, and I probably would have forgotten all about it. But after we’d gone to bed, I awoke to a thud in the dead of night. Barely visible in the starlight drifting around the curtains, Liam stood at the foot of the bed, and I sat up, rubbing at my eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Stupid phone doesn’t work,” he snapped.

“Not so loud, you’ll wake up Lucy!” I hissed.

“First the clock freezes, now my phone won’t turn on,” he moaned, albeit quieter.

My eyes drifted to the floor where a dim rectangle of light was reflecting off the carpet. “Well it’s on now…”

Liam stopped pacing and turned around. As he scooped up the phone, its bright screen illuminated his face, wrinkled up in confusion. “Must have knocked some sense into it…” Using his phone screen as a light source, he walked out of the door, towards the bathroom. “Clock definitely needs new batteries though,” he added in a whisper.

Stretching over to his side of the bed, I reached over his pillow to the bedside table, and lifted his alarm clock to face me. Its black face showed large, crimson numbers on a digital display - 3:34am. As I squinted at it through the darkness, it flickered to 3:35am. Seemed to be working fine to me. I rolled over to my side of the bed and went back to sleep.

It was my turn to take Lucy to school that day, and as I got her dressed, Liam made breakfast. Turned out he actually had woken her up when he’d thrown his phone, and he must have felt guilty since he made pancakes. They’d always been Lucy’s favourite, probably from one movie or another, and despite Liam’s insistence that “we’re not Americans, we don’t have pancakes for bloody breakfast,” he knew they were an easy way to make her happy. That was one thing I can’t fault my husband for; he did love our daughter. It wasn’t often he went out of his way to make her happy, but I suppose he tried when it mattered.

But the next morning, he was in a foul mood.

“Oh, now she’s awake…” he grunted sarcastically, when I walked into the kitchen, fastening up my dressing gown.

I ignored the comment; it wasn’t like I’d slept in overly long. Besides, it was a weekend. I braced myself for a tense breakfast, sat in frosty silence. But as I approached the worktop, my eyes fell on a black screen, covered in splintering hairline cracks. “What happened to your phone?”

“Stopped working again,” he said, ruffling his newspaper. “Tried knocking some sense into it, like I did the other night, but it didn’t work. Then I tried again, a bit harder. Too hard, apparently.”

“Well that was stupid,” I said, matter of factly as I put the kettle on.

Liam didn’t say anything, but he folded up his newspaper, threw the last dregs of coffee down his throat and left the room. Probably more mad at himself than me. If he’d been mad at me, he would have shot some comment back. He always did like to have the last word. His voice took on a sugary lilt as he bumped into Lucy in the hall.

“Morning darling, didn’t wake you up again last night did I?”

“No daddy.”

I suppose I did find it a little strange that my husband had managed to smash his phone without waking either of us, but those thoughts were drowned out by the sheer idiocy of it. With both of us in a mood already, we avoided each other as best as we could. This was always a little bit harder on weekends, and just before we slept, we ended up bickering.

“What’s that?” I asked, as I saw him place something under his pillow.

“...a torch.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “What do you need a torch for?”

“To see where I’m bloody going, if I wake up in the night again.”

“Well maybe if you kept your anger in check, you’d still have your phone.”

“Maybe if you stopped criticising me all the time, I wouldn’t be so quick to anger.”

And as simple as that, we descended into an argument that got increasingly personal and ended up with us both rolled over in bed, backs facing each other. When you’re mad at someone, even the slightest thing can annoy you. The way they huff out a breath through their nose, or the way they tug at the sheets. Eventually, Liam started snoring. I wasn’t far behind.

I woke up the next day to an empty bed. I’d assumed my husband would still be in a mood with me, but when I found him that morning, he was completely oblivious. Staring up at the clock above the fireplace, he clutched a collection of watches and alarm clocks in his arms. In the background, the news was on, but he’d got it on mute.


“Hey!” he said, as soon as I walked in the room. He actually seemed pleased to see me. “Can I look at your phone a sec?”

“Wh- what are you doing?”

“Just... what time is it?”

I told him, and when he shook his head in exasperation, I showed him.

“They can’t all be wrong…” he muttered, setting the bundle in his hands on top of the fireplace, one by one. He left the alarm clock until last, and grabbed it with both hands, raising it into the air to examine.

“What are you doing Liam?” I asked sleepily, making a point of taking my pink watch from his collection.

“There was a power cut last night, or something. I think there’s been one every night. Even my torch didn’t work.”

I shrugged. “The clocks have batteries, a power cut wouldn’t stop them.”

“You’re not listening,” he said, shaking his head, “even my torch didn’t work. Nothing worked. That's why my phone wasn’t turning on! I tried yours last night, and it wouldn’t turn on either.”

“You were going through my phone last night?”

“No!” he said, “I was seeing if it worked, and it didn’t. Nothing did. Not the lights, not the fridge, not the watches. The only thing in the whole house that was still on was this clock.” He raised the little alarm clock in his hands. “And it was stuck on that same time. 3:33am!”

“Are you sure this wasn’t a dream?”

“It wasn’t a bloody dream!”

“OK, so there was a power cut last night,” I said, making my way towards the door. “Do you want a cup of tea?”

“It wasn’t just…” he started, rubbing at his brow in genuine exasperation. “Look, I was up for a while. At least an hour, it had to be. And all the while, nothing worked. All the while, this clock said 3:33am. Then, suddenly, everything turned back on, back to normal. And this clock said 3:34am.”

“So… what are you saying?”

He gestured wildly to the television. Pointing at the little timer at the bottom of the screen and holding up the alarm clock to compare. They both matched, to the minute. “How can it be the same?? Where has that time gone??” His movements were so frantic, he looked like he was two steps away from frothing at the mouth.

“It must have been a dream Liam. I don’t know, call the electric board or something. See if they’ve had any power cuts. I’m making a cup of tea.”

“Wasn’t a fucking dream,” I head him mutter as he knelt in front of the TV, holding the alarm clock up to the screen and comparing times.

I suppose that was the start of his obsession. But at least he was bearable that day. I could tell it was occupying his mind, but he didn’t mention it again. Until he woke me up, at least.

I think it was the thud that woke me up, more than the whimper. But the whimpering was what made me sit bolt upright.

“What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck…” Liam’s voice drifted over the foot of the bed, and I could barely see the shape of him, scrambling backwards on the floor. The curtains wafted open, moonlight shining through. He must have fallen over, but was still kicking himself away from the window, wide eyes glinting as he shook his head in denial.

As I got out of bed and made my way over to him, he flinched and looked up at me. Even in the dim light, I could make out the terror etched on his face. I’d never seen my husband scared like this.

“There’s someone outside,” he spluttered in a frantic whisper. “Someone in a mask or… They saw me. They looked right at me.”

I rose and peeked out of the curtains myself. Our quiet street looked normal to me. Parked cars, streetlights and the houses opposite. I scanned around, looking for people, but came up short.

“There’s nobody out there,” I said, letting the curtain fall back.

Liam clambered to his feet and shoved the curtain aside, getting his whole body in front of the window. He searched the empty street with both hands pressed against the glass.

“I saw someone,” he muttered, “I bloody saw someone.”

As I got back into bed, I glanced at the alarm clock on Liam’s side of the bed. 3:35am.

The next day was my turn to take Lucy for school, and I didn’t see much of Liam all day, despite not going out of my way to avoid him. In the evening, I caught him fitting extra locks on the doors, a deadbolt on front and back. I had to bite my tongue not to say anything, but knew it would just cause a fight. Besides, we lived in an OK neighbourhood, but maybe a bit of extra caution wouldn’t go amiss. What if Liam had seen someone out there? Looking to rob us, or hurt us?

I stirred that night to find the bed empty. A quick glance around the room told me Liam was elsewhere. Since I was already awake, I decided to go to the bathroom, and on the landing I bumped into my husband, walking up the stairs. Even in the dim light, I could see him try to hide something behind his back.

“What’s that?” I asked, before he could open his mouth.

“Nothing…” he muttered.

I walked down the steps to see what he was hiding, but he twisted and grabbed my arm with his free hand.

“Go to bed,” he hissed.

“What have you got? Is that… is that a crowbar?”

“It’s nothing,” he said, but dropped any pretense of hiding it now I’d guessed correctly. The tool fell to his side, glinting in the darkness. “Go to bed.”

“Fucking psycho,” I spat in disbelief, stepping away from him.

“Well it’s a good job I had it - someone was trying to open our door. I must have scared them off.”

“Wh- Someone was trying to get inside?”

“Yeah, I could hear them trying the handle.”

I’d hoped that would be the end of it, but was sorely mistaken. Liam’s nightly obsession only became worse and worse. He was tetchier than ever, snapping at the smallest thing. It was clear he wasn’t getting enough sleep, and if it wasn’t for me urging him on, he would have been much later for work, if he went in at all. Not that I got any thanks for it. I became the object of his anger. What was happening was somehow my fault. I didn’t believe him. Wouldn’t help him.

“Wake me up then, if it’s so bad!” I said one day.

“Don’t you think I’ve tried that? I’ve shook you, slapped you, but you won’t wake up until it’s over. Until he’s gone.”

“Until who has gone?” I asked, cautiously processing what he was trying to tell me. He’d… slapped me? Subconsciously I rubbed at my cheek. Surely I’d have felt it if my husband had been slapping me in my sleep? Surely I would have a mark or even a bruise. Liam wasn’t exactly a small man. But it also wasn’t like him to hurt me. He could be a prick, sure, but he’d never purposefully hurt me before.

“Forget it,” he muttered.

The alarm woke me up, beeping in the darkness. As soon as I rose to turn it off, Liam’s hand pressed it down to silence it. He was fully dressed, and standing on his side of the bed. He had the crowbar clutched in one hand.

“What are y- what time is it?” I asked blearily, still half asleep.

“You told me to wake you up. I can’t do it once it starts, but maybe it’ll work if you’re awake before.” He stalked towards the window and opened the curtain a crack with his crowbar, peeking through.

“For God’s sake, Liam.” But I got up, all the same. If it would keep him quiet and get him back to some normality, I’d tolerate it. It was hard to believe I found myself wanting the old Liam back. This new version was making me see how good we’d had it before.

3:32am, the clock read. Standing on the other side of the curtain, I pulled it open and peered outside. Nothing except our quiet road, street lights casting an artificial haze across asphalt pavement. A distant rumble of a car, speeding along a connecting road, unseen.

“So what am I looking for, exactly?” I asked.

Liam didn’t reply, so I kept watching the streets outside. And watching. And watching. Shaking my head, I eventually pulled my head away from the curtain and turned to Liam. But he wasn’t there. I looked around the room. He wasn’t here at all. I’d never heard him leave. A quick glance at the clock told me it was 3:38am.

Deciding it would be best to look for Liam before returning to bed, I crept out of the room. I eventually found him, downstairs, on the kitchen floor, hugging his knees and crying. Even despite my current mood for my husband, he looked so weak and fragile, I couldn’t help but hug him. The crowbar lay on the tiled floor next to him.

“I’ve made it so much worse,” he croaked. “He’s never got that close before.”

“What do you mean?” I asked quietly, wiping tears off his cheek, “why did you leave the room?”

“You wouldn’t move. You wouldn’t answer me. I thought for sure you could see it too, but it was like you were sleeping with your eyes open, standing up. I came down here, and saw him, right out there.” He pointed to the kitchen window. I glanced over, but couldn’t see anything through the darkness. Liam swallowed, and spoke again, hands trembling. “I opened the window, to yell at him, to scare him off, but it - he - it was like he was sliding towards me. But fast. Being pulled through the gap I was making, pulled inside. He was almost touching the glass by the time I slammed it shut. He was…” Liam broke off, and began crying again. “Oh God, I’ve made it so much worse.”

As I looked at the kitchen window, I did notice something. It was whisper-faint, and fading still. I stood, and made my way to the window. If it wasn’t for our neighbour’s security light in the background, I’d never have made it out, but sure enough, on the window my husband said he’d opened, was a faint smear of condensation. The kind hot breath makes on a cold surface. I wiped at it with my fingers, but it didn’t come away. It was on the other side of the glass. As I watched it fade away, I tried to reassure myself. It couldn’t have been breath marks from a person, it was too tall. They’d have to be seven foot tall or so to make marks like that. But it did unnerve me. Coupled with my husband’s reaction, it was hard not to tremble a little myself.

I led him back to bed, and we tried to sleep. Or one of us did, at least. Liam just sat up all night. Just sat there, staring at nothing and shaking.

The next day I called the electric board, to see if they’d had any reports of power cuts in our area. Not for a couple of months, they said. Then I called the non-emergency number for police, to see if they’d had any break ins or home invasions around my postcode lately. They were reluctant at first, but eventually told me “no, no increased activity in your postcode ma’am.” That didn’t leave me with many choices. The simplest explanation is often the correct one, and the simplest explanation was that my husband was losing his goddamn mind. That didn’t explain the fog on the window, but maybe that was just damp air, or a trick of the light.

Whatever the explanation, my husband's behavior was starting to get out of hand, and was scaring Lucy. His eyes were constantly wild and nervous, as though expecting something to lurch out of the shadows at any moment. He bought extra locks for the windows, security cameras and even metal grills to fix over the downstairs windows. I drew the line at that. I was already close to taking Lucy and walking, and told him as much. I hoped it might snap him out of it, but all he said was “fine”. He left the grills off, but installed the rest.

That night I made him sleep on the sofa downstairs, and had restless sleep myself, drifting in and out. After a bit of tossing and turning, I wondered what time it was, and reached for my phone. But the screen wouldn’t turn on.

Frowning, I pulled myself across the empty bed and picked up Liam’s alarm clock. I almost dropped it when I saw the time. 3:33am.

Scrambling out of bed and putting on my dressing gown, I tried the bedroom light switch, but nothing happened. Same in the hall. Was this Liam’s idea of a joke? Was he so desperate for me to share his delusions that he’d somehow turned everything off? That would be easy enough, I supposed. Flick the fuse board off, and drain my phone battery without me knowing. What stumped me was the bath taps. When I turned them out of sheer desperation, not even a drop of water dribbled out. I suppose Liam could have isolated the water, but I didn’t understand why he would. He’d never mentioned the water not working.

Making my way to the stairs, I had to feel my way across the walls. With no lights working and no light source to use, the interior hallway was pitch black, and I awkwardly shuffled my feet down each step, taking my time and clutching the bannister. Downstairs was no better. Normally, even at this time, there would be enough light coming from the glow of the street lights outside to see my path, but not even the street lights were working. Liam couldn’t have done that. Power cuts have always unsettled me. It feels like being plunged back a step in our evolution. They shake you out of your daily life, and for a moment you’re an animal again. Afraid, powerless. We forget how much we rely on electricity, but power cuts always remind us.

“Liam…” I whispered. Even though I was afraid, I didn’t want to wake Lucy. Hopefully she could sleep right through it, at least until morning.

I made my way through the kitchen, feeling for cabinets and door handles so I didn’t smash into them.

“Liam?”

Still no reply. But then I was being quiet. Strangely, the fear which most crept into my mind was him attacking me with that stupid crowbar, mistaking me for an intruder. I tried again, raising my voice just beyond a strangled whisper.

“Liam?”

Nothing. Maybe he was sleeping. It would be ironic if he slept through this power cut, the first one I’d been awake for.

In the living room, I could just see his silhouette, sat on the sofa, facing away from me. My eyes were just beginning to adjust to what little light there was, and as I stepped around the sofa, I could see he was awake, eyes open, staring forwards. He gripped something tight in both hands.

A hunting rifle.

“Jesus Christ Liam!” I hissed. “What the fuck are you doing?”

He didn’t reply. Just kept staring forwards, his breathing slow.

“You know I hate that thing,” I muttered, twisting to see what he was looking at. A window, facing onto our garden. It was hard to tell, with just a slither of moonlight to see, but it didn’t look like anyone or anything was out there.

Turning back to Liam, I took hold of the gun, and tried to pull it out of his grip. He didn’t budge. Not even the barest hint of emotion passed his face. Him and that stupid gun. He told me he’d sold it, after his last trip. I tried again, really trying now, bracing myself to wrench it as hard as I could. Again, Liam didn’t even wobble. He didn’t even look like he was tensing.

“Well, I believe you now,” I said, letting go of the weapon. “But I wish you’d stop acting like this. Just tell me what’s wrong.”

Liam said nothing. Did nothing. Not even so much as a frown. Even his breathing was the same, steady pace. I tried pulling him up, but it was like he was frozen solid. It began to scare me a little.

“Liam?” I asked, genuinely worried.

Still no reply. As I looked closer, I realised something. Liam wasn’t blinking. I took him by the shoulders and tried to shake him, but he didn’t even wobble. It was like trying to push a wall. That’s when I remembered what he’d said the time he’d woken me up with the alarm.

“It was like you were sleeping with your eyes open…”

His words echoed in my mind, and a thought gripped me. One way to test if he was pretending. I raised a finger to his face, and slowly, carefully brought it to his eye. My finger pressed into the white of his eyeball, wet and squishy. Liam didn’t so much as blink.

I took an involuntary step back and clasped a hand over my mouth. Liam’s body was here, but he wasn’t. Sleeping with his eyes open. Comatose.

Collapsing on the chair in front of him, my mind raced. Was this what he’d been going through? Every night? Trapped in this place where nothing worked, alone? He’d said it felt like hours...

Surprisingly, that gave me some comfort. I could just wait. I could just wait until it was over. So, that’s what I did. I sat in that chair, and tried to go to sleep. But no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t seem to drift off. Try as I might, my mind was awake. Eventually I gave up, just sat there, waiting, shivering in the dark. It did feel like hours had passed, and still nothing worked. Occasionally I’d try again, just in case, whispering to my statue of a husband, with no reply.

As I sat in that chair, willing time to creep forwards, waiting for the light to come back to the world, something else tickled the back of my mind. My husband had seen someone outside.

Maybe I wasn’t alone.

The thought sent a chill down my spine, and my eyes darted amongst the black windows around me. Each one could be hiding someone. Whoever was out there, he had brought my husband to tears. I drew my knees up, clutching them for warmth. It didn’t work. Goosebumps prickled my skin, and I wished my husband would say something. Anything.

The way he stared at the window behind me with such intensity made me keep checking over my shoulder. Faced with an eternal wait and just my husband’s vacant body for company, my glances to each window became increasingly desperate. Part of me wanted to see something. Just see something and have done with it. How long had I sat here? Four hours? Five?

I decided to stand, to stretch my legs and warm up, if anything. Creeping to the garden window my husband was facing, I gave a long, considering search amongst the dark, rustling leaves outside. But I couldn’t see anything. Whether it was paranoia or something else, it felt like someone was watching me through the windows. They made me feel vulnerable. Exposed. I kept to the walls as I stalked around the room, only peeking the barest slither of my face around the window frame. The street outside looked as cold and alone as I felt. My eyes scanned across the cars and houses outside, but without the street lights working, it was hard to tell for certain. Everything was just black shadow against black night. Even the sky and my neighbours houses seemed to blur into one single image. But as I strained my eyes against the dark backdrop, I spotted something that didn’t belong. Two little pinprick lights. Faint, like distant stars, but on the ground.

Squinting, trying to make sense of it, I wondered if it was an animal. The lights were close enough together to be eyes, and the bony, straggly shapes above the lights looked like antlers. I realised the rest of it was blocked out by a parked car, and stood on my tiptoes for a better look. I almost screamed when I saw the rest of the body. A man’s body. Standing perfectly still in the darkness. As the sound left my throat, whatever it was turned its head, antlers swaying in the night. The pinprick lights of its eyes erupted into twin torrents of light, blinding me. I threw myself out of view, hiding behind the wall, as a beam of pure white light flooded the room, illuminating my husband on the sofa, still clutching his gun, still motionless. That light moved with intent, searching, and I ran.

As I made it through the doorway, illumination splashed against the timber frame, my own shadow stretching in front of me. I twisted around the corner, almost slipping on the kitchen tiles. I couldn’t grab the gun, my husband’s grip was too strong, but I knew he kept the crowbar upstairs, in the wardrobe. As I ran up the stairs, the twin beams of light followed. Passing the hall window, white light passed around the curtain, matching my pace, light spilling across its edges as I ran. Even though the curtains were drawn, whatever was watching me knew exactly where I was. Throwing open the bedroom door, I prepared to dive for the wardrobe, for some slim chance of defending myself. In the dark room, my eyes snapped to the only light. Crimson numbers, in the darkness.

3:33am

Behind me, light splashed my shadow across the carpeted floor and I fell to meet it, too scared to scream, turning around expecting to see a figure with headlamp eyes and antlers, towering above me, but it was just the hall light. Distant gushing water came from the bathroom. The power was back. The water was back. I glanced around the bedroom, back at the alarm clock, tauntingly reading 3:34am.

Hard to say how long I lay there, gripping the carpet and sobbing. Gut wrenching wails that hurt my throat. I didn’t dare look at the clock. I just lay there, basking in the light. Knowing that means I was away from that place.

Lucy found me, and maternal instincts swallowed my fears. I forced myself off the floor, and scooped her up, wiping away tears. I took her back to bed, wrapped a blanket around myself, and fell to sleep in a chair.

“I believe you,” I told Liam the next day, still in a wide-eyed state of shock. “I was there. 3:33am. Everything was turned off. Even you.” That last part made me cry again. Liam just held me as I trembled. I didn’t mention the deer-headed man or his headlamp eyes. I didn’t need to. Liam had seen him too.

We both called in sick, and this time I said nothing when Liam fit the window grills. I even let him bring the hunting rifle into the bedroom. He propped it up against the wall, and we both lay awake all night, staring at the ceiling. Waiting.

At 3:30am, Liam sat on the edge of the bed and started to dress. When I asked him what he was doing, he sighed and said “if you got trapped there, that means Lucy might one day too.” He snatched up the rifle and lay it across his lap, head bowed. “If that happens, I can’t protect you. Either of you.”

I could barely talk around the lump forming in my throat. “Wh- what are you saying? What are you going to-”

“I’ve sat here, night after night, and he just gets closer. The windows rattle so hard Marie, it sounds like the whole frame is going to come loose. The doors creak and strain. Last time I heard something, climbing down our chimney, trying to get through the walls. I don’t think I can wait. It’s me he wants.”

“Liam, I-”

“I’ve got to do this, Marie. I can’t just sit here. I’ve got to do something.”

“Liam, I saw-”

He wasn’t listening. Talking over me, too bullheaded too stubborn.

“I’ve got to-”

The faint tick of the alarm clock silenced us both. Our heads snapped towards it in unison.

3:33am. As soon as my eyes fell upon those crimson letters, they flickered to 3:34am.

And when I turned back, Liam was gone. In his place, a note.

“I have to find out, Marie. Have to end it. Can’t go on like this.

I still love you. Even if you don’t love me back. Look after Lucy.

If you wake up at 3:33am, don’t look outside.”

I crumbled the note and ran, searching through the house for him. “Liam!” I cried, “Liam, I saw him too!”

But my husband was gone. Front door open, cold night air spilling in. Car on the drive. Clothes in the wardrobe. The only thing he took was his gun.

The next day was a sleep deprived blur, of police calls, family calls, and tears. And all the while I watched the clocks tick closer. Second by second, creeping towards that time I was now more afraid of than anything.

Well, almost anything. Liam was right. I had to protect Lucy. I could not let her experience that place. I just couldn’t. So I tucked her in bed, and waited. Out of sheer exhaustion, I actually fell asleep. But when I woke, it was still pitch black. I didn’t need to look at the clock with its crimson numbers to know what time it was. Outside, the wind howled. A garden gate battered open and shut. I wrapped myself tight in my sheet, and tried not to think what Liam had said, about rattling windows, and something climbing down the chimney.

But there was a faint glow coming from behind the curtains. The street lights were still on, then. I snatched up my phone, but it wouldn’t turn on.

The wind swirled and raged. And with a creeping dread, I remembered our street lights cast an orange haze, not a pure, perfect white one. I knew in my bones what was casting that light. I don’t know why I looked. Curiosity? Helplessness? Whatever it was, something drove me to peek behind the curtain.

A deer’s skull on a rotting body gazed up at me with headlamp eyes. As I stared, open mouthed, it began to drift, glacier slow, towards me. It didn’t walk. It floated. Slid.

But to be honest, I barely saw it. My eyes had fallen on a second figure. A man of familiar height and build, clutching a hunting rifle. Where his eyes should have been were two, black, sunken pits, with distant pin prick stars. His head tilted. Snapped towards me. Those pits swelled into headlamps. High beams on a car. A lighthouse in the night. A spotlight on the stage.

My eyes burnt, but I couldn’t pull away.

Liam raised the rifle. Pointed it right at me.

Tick.

I staggered back. Streetlights flooded the road with an orange haze. The wind died to a murmur. Liam and that… thing were gone. The clock read 3:34am.

That was last night. The police have a guard posted outside. They think I’m worried about my husband coming back. I suppose in a way, I am. But they could post a thousand guards outside, and it wouldn’t make a difference. None of them will be awake at 3:33am.

It won’t stop. Now I’ve seen that thing outside, I know it’s just going to get worse. Each night, a little closer. Each night, a little stronger.

Liam didn’t slow it down. He just gave it a way in.

***

[error code 54] [333]

[agents dispatched]

[ CONTAINMENT REPORT AVAILABLE ]

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Floor Fifty-Four, 2021