A Summer Place
It had been difficult to sleep, due to the summer, as the air became dry and oppressive, so when the footsteps happened outside of her window, Marianne opened her eyes to the ceiling and couldn’t move. That was typical. Her limbs were stiff and her eyes wandered around the dark, hot room, looking for what would come haunting her next. Sometimes she heard screams, sometimes scratching on the doors. At times, she even heard herself dying. Lately, however, there had been nothing of the sort. Instead, Marianne was now often greeted by a dark figure that stood in the corner of her room. It was tall, but nothing else was visible, since the window faced her bed directly and no light could hope to get to where it was.
She looked at the ceiling and decided to focus on her breathing. In moments like these, it was important to stay calm, so she could wake herself up. Marianne started convincing her legs to move and suffered the thoughts that danced in her mind:
“What if I don’t wake up this time?“, “What if I sleep forever?“, “What if this time it’s real?” and her heart started beating on her chest loud enough to drown her and bring out the uneven breathing once more.
She tried again. The dark figure loomed over her, as oppressive as the air around and it breathed in and out, loudly, enough to wake the entire house, or so she thought. It didn’t seem to want to do anything else, though, which Marianne appreciated. Sometimes things interacted with her, frightened her on purpose. Sometimes she got out of bed, only to be back again in a second, to try once more. One time a gigantic lizard had crawled from the very window in front of her and nested behind her bookshelf, with wet sounds and writhing. There had also been parties thrown in the garden outside that went violently wrong.
While she reminisced, her leg twitched slightly and now it was only a matter of time before she could wake up entirely. The figure, knowing it, jumped through the shadows and out of her window, into the wild again. After that, the screaming began, loud and clear, calling for her, but it was all over for them and Marianne opened her eyes to the real world around her.
First of all, there was light. Her lamp was on and moonlight graced the window glass, differently from the darkness of the nightmare. The window had also been open to the garden because of the heat, but she found that it had suddenly turned a little chilly. Looking around, there were no visible shadows or dark places. It was all back to normal.
So when the footsteps happened again, Marianne’s eyes turned to the window and she stared at the curtains moving. She then thought about the stray cats that walked around the garden and sometimes slept inside the sink by the pool and the empty shed. It might have been them, of course. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened, as her father would be witness and often scold her for calling him over for useless reasons.
“I need to sleep” he’d say “Maybe you don’t, but some of us do, some of us feed you and ourselves. Some of us don’t have time for whines and noises in the night, and cats walking around!”
So it was the cats. Probably that had entered her mind so deeply that she was having nightmares about it now. What nonsense. To calm herself down even further, and prove to herself that she completely believed it were the felines, she even decided to put music on, only loud enough for her to hear it.
Yes, that would get her mind off of nightmares and cats, what a wonderful idea.
She got up from her bed and softly crossed the room to her radio, nightgown flowing around her, and didn’t even think before choosing the CD and playing it. A Summer Place it was. It was always A Summer Place, especially now in the warmth and the dryness. That song managed to transport her to better times and even open her mind to fantasies. Maybe one day she too would be in love, and far away from there. Far away from parents and cats, and dark figures.
She smiled and hummed to herself “...the sweet secret of a summer place it’s that is everywhere when two people share all their hopes, all their dreams, all their...” but before she could finish it, another noise happened, different this time, startling her. Finally, she gathered enough courage to go to the window and look out to find out what it was once and for all. From the garden, a cat looked back at her, as he had knocked a bucket down and defiantly stared, daring her to scold him. Sighing and rolling her eyes to indicate indifference to herself -- and the cat, of course --she closed the window and locked it, as it had been cold anyway. After that, she headed back to bed, letting the music play and fade with her into sleep.
At breakfast the next day, things were quiet. Her father buttered some bread, her mother drank some juice and Marianne yawned a distracted yawn and gave a small bite on her sad, soggy sandwich.
“How was your night?” the harsh, male voice from the end of the table filled the room. She shrugged.
“Normal, I guess.”
“I see,” he said, biting his bread as well, but in a bigger, more violent way “No noises?”
“Good. No cats to annoy me then,” he seemingly finished, but when she looked up, she noticed it looked as if he wanted to say something else, but refrained himself before truly ending with “Never mind that,” and biting his toast once more.
“Ok,” Marianne said, simply, pushing her sandwich back “If you excuse me, I’m going back to my bedroom to read.”
“You’re excused,” and with that, she left the table and the biting behind.
She did what she said, and spent the day reading. The song also went on, A Summer Place, on repeat, not as quiet as before, but enough that her parents wouldn’t hear it and complain. Summer was usually when people travelled with family, or friends, but no one called from the outside and Marianne didn’t think she had much of a family -- not with a scared, quiet mother and a loud father. Nothing seemed to be changing around there, so books were a must, although Picnic at Hanging Rock was a bore and she felt like flinging it out of the window. Maybe the cats would like it better. She couldn’t, bring herself to, though. It was better than nothing.
“...There’s a summer place... Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me...” Marianne looked up from her page. The radio had jammed again. With a small kick, it was back, but it was always a bit eerie when it did that. It gave her the creeps, as if something bad was about to happen. The cats were quiet this time, but something came to her mind that hadn’t before. Her father never asked about her night. Why start now?
When she finished her book it was dinner and after dinner, she put herself to bed. It must have been eleven o’clock by the time Marianne actually felt like sleeping and even later when her eyes shut for good.
When she woke up again to the darkness, the oppressive air and the figure, looming once again, breathing uncontrollably, it must have been three, or four. The figure seemed restless and these odd shutter sounds kept coming to her mind, along with the usual screaming. It once again left through the shadows and out of the window before Marianne could wake up and look around once more, to see everything in its proper place -- lamp, radio, A Summer Place -- nothing strange. Nothing except the window, open a sliver, looking at her.
Marianne’s eyes turned to slits as she thought about that. It was strange because she could swear she had closed the window before going to bed. Worse than that, it seemed once again as if someone was walking outside. Marianne could recognize the cats’ light footing and thought for sure that it was no such thing this time. It was too heavy to be them.
She put her feet to the floor and slowly walked across the wooden path, to reach the window. The moon was not as helpful this time, as it was retracting itself, but it was a serene night, full of stars and not as dark as it would be on later days. Soon enough, she found the cats and could see them roaming, sleeping on chairs and on warmer parts of the stone that covered the pool area. It was all quiet, as if the noise never happened, and the light breeze blew her hair away. Anyone who didn’t knew better could think that to be the perfect idyllic sight, a blonde slender girl, in a white nightgown staring at the garden -- but upon close inspection, you could her hands were shaking.
She looked around for anything that could have made the footstep noise, but all she found were the cats and the empty pool shed, staring back at her. No dark figures, nothing. Had she actually closed the window? Maybe it really was the cats and they had just been a little noisier that time around. Why would she close the window on summer anyway?
So, convincing herself it was alright, Marianne went back into her room and listened to her music until she fell asleep again.
Another day, another book -- Jane Eyre -- and when she was about to took herself in, as usual, someone knocked on the door. She looked up from the page and closed the book, as the knocking became more urgent. When she opened, she was surprised to see her father on the other side.
“Hi, dad,” Marianne began, confusedly “What is i--”
“How was your night last night?” He asked, cutting her in half, both in sentence and tone. She was once again surprised, but recovered quickly enough to reply with:
“No,” and this time her mouth was faster than her brain “Why?” she regretted asking and for a second she thought he would scold her, but instead, he answered.
“Nothing,” he began and then completed “I’ve heard some strange noises coming from this room that didn’t sound like you,” Marianne was none the wiser.
“What kinds of noises?”
“Breathing, heavy breathing. It sounded like... I don’t know,” Marianne froze.
“What...What do you mean breathing?”
“‘What do you mean what breathing?!’” He imitated, before adding “What does breathing sound like to you?!”
“That’s not what I meant,” she began, stepping on egg shells, biting her lips “I meant how... How was it? Uneven?”
“Uneven yes, very uneven. Your mother thought it came from outside of our window, but it came from yours. I checked yesterday. I didn’t mean to wake you up, so I didn’t. I’m just here to see if you’re ok, since you look fine, good night,” then, just like that, he closed the door and left his daughter alone.
In bed, Marianne stared at the window. It was locked this time, she was sure of it because it was the first thing she did after her dad left. The second thing was playing the song, but she couldn’t bring herself to, so she sat in silence and expectation. She couldn’t move. No amount of calming or reasoning could get her breathing to a peaceful place. When she blinked, she opened her eyes again immediately, afraid that otherwise she might sleep. She was determined to stay up, she couldn’t sleep now. The mattress was soft, but she was sure that if she tried to lay her head, she’d wake up startled...
...So when she did wake up in the morning to her mother screaming “Breakfast!” she was very surprised at herself. Not only had she slept the whole night, nothing had succeeded. The window was shut and a cat peacefully slept near the glass. It was the very vision of happiness that made her think it had all been a bad dream. Maybe her father hadn’t even come to her bedroom or mentioned anything about breathing. Maybe she had imagined all of it. Yes. Maybe it was that.
So she went downstairs, smiling, and her dad looked up at her from his seat, as she stared at him, with a question dangling from his lips.
“How was your night?” she didn’t know what to say, but:
“Your night!” he spat back at her “How was your night?! Anymore breathing? I didn’t hear anything last night, so I’m asking you” it wasn’t a dream. She sat down at the table before answering.
“No, there was nothing, nothing at all.”
On the weeks that passed, the shadow figure dreams came sporadically. Sometimes she would sleep soundly and sometimes she’d hear the breathing. Her father went out to check multiple, after getting annoyed himself, but couldn’t ever find anything, which resulted in anger and quitting. Maybe there was really nothing at all, Marianne told herself one day, other than some nightmares and collective hysteria. She had read about that a couple of times, on books, even though she didn’t believe it much. The summer had been difficult, with them spending it mostly inside; as her friends abandoned her, and it got too warm to do anything but exist. “Slowly” she thought “We’ll forget about all this. It’ll be slow, because it was terrifying, but it’ll happen. I forgot worse, I guess. I can forget some stupid nightmares” and that thought brought her comfort, even if it didn’t seem to be the truth at all.
So, on a dreamless night, Marianne woke up to the screams of her father filling her bedroom, from his own.
“MARIANNE!” he shouted, making her jump in bed “TURN THAT GODDAMN MUSIC OFF OR I SWEAR I’LL BREAK THAT GODDAMNED RADIO ON YOUR HEAD!” Radio?” she looked around, at first confused, and then horrified. Her radio was nowhere to be found. Soon, the music her father talked about reached her as well, coming from outside of her window.
“...There’s a summer place, where it may rain or storm, but I’m safe and warm from within...”
“MARIANNE!” She jumped off of bed and opened her drawer, looking for a flashlight, hands shaking “TURN THAT FUCKING MUSIC DOWN, OR ELSE!”
“I WILL! Give me A SECOND!” she yelled back, frightened. She didn’t know what to fear more, the outside or the inside and didn’t want to think about it now. There had to be something done about the music and her radio.
Trying to control her breathing, she turned to the window and firmly walked to it, opening it and easily jumping out.
The night was full of stars, but the moon had retracted further and her bedroom lamp wasn’t enough to reach the pool. The cats raised their little heads and looked at their new companion with indifference, some meowing at her, some simply licking themselves clean. Marianne didn’t pay attention to them, as she didn’t want to hear her father screaming at her again, and decided to move quickly, turning the flashlight on. She followed the song and noticed that it was coming from the empty pool shed.
That was odd, Marianne thought. The pool shed was hardly ever open, only once, when her parents had some visitors stay there for the summer, and it was often bolted. B.ut when she turned the flashlight its way, she found it didn’t seem to be now. In fact, it seemed to be perfectly open and inviting.
Something brushed past Marianne’s leg and she nearly fainted, before looking down and seeing it was one of the cats. He looked up at her and then at the shed as well, walking over there as if nothing was happening. The other cats seemed to follow and soon it was a cat party, all sniffing around the door.
“MARIANNE!” another scream from her father prompted her to walk again, faster this time. When she finally approached the shed and tried to gather the courage to open it, she found herself welcomed by a familiar sound.
“There’s a summer place...Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me...”
It was the CD, skipping mercilessly. Marianne retracted her hand as the cats meowed around her, eager to see the other side. Looking back at the window, she knew she had no choice. Going back inside was not better, at least not with the song still playing, so she took a deep breath and opened the door.
In his bedroom, Marianne’s father was tired of waiting. Hastily, he sat up and put on his slippers, to face the night.
“What are you going to do?” his wife asked, tired and without moving.
“I’m going to throw that RADIO out of the DAMN window, that’s what I’m going to do!” he answered, getting up and marching down the hallway, to his daughter’s bedroom.
To his surprise, however, when he flung the door open, he didn’t find her there. The breeze blew the soft curtains up and down and the music entered the bedroom as if invited, even if a bit repetitive, to complete the environment.
Sweating because of the heat, he made his way to the window and saw the blonde head of his daughter facing the inside of the open pool shed, the cats all around her, purring.
“MARIANNE!” he shouted, but she didn’t turn around “MARIANNE!” again, but still nothing. Deciding to put an end to that -- “I’ll teach her to answer me when I talk to her!” -- He climbed out of the window himself, maddened by the silence “MARIANNE! LOOK AT ME THIS-” but before he could complete his sentence, he arrived at the shed and saw what his daughter was staring at himself, which was enough to render him speechless.
In there, there were opened cans of food, an used bed, Marianne’s radio, jammed, a shattered camera and several pictures spread about the bed and walls, all of Marianne. In them, she was either completely asleep or looking at the ceiling fixedly, seemingly paralyzed. Some of them were far, from a corner, but some were close-ups of her face and body, especially at the times in which she couldn’t move.
There were more than a hundred of them.
Marianne couldn’t speak and when the footsteps happened again, she shuddered and screamed. Her father, determined, chased the sound, but all she could do was stay at the same spot, paralyzed.
When the police arrived, they arrested a man who was being wanted for breaking and entering, among other things. She wasn’t hearing when they told her, she didn’t feel it when her mother hugged her, when her father apologized. All she could hear were the cats and the music, the jammed sound of the CD she knew was going to haunt her forever.
“There’s a summer place... Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me... Your arms reach out to me...”
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