I was woken up by the sound of whining and scratching outside my bedroom door.
“Go lie down, Mystic.” I mumbled from the depths of my pillow.
As soon as I spoke, the sounds ceased and the house became still and silent once again. A thought crept its way through my sleep soaked mind, a painful little beast that wormed its way up into consciousness. Mystic hadn’t been at my door, it was just an all too real feeling dream; the result of powerful wishful thinking. Old age had claimed my companion of twelve years only the day before and I missed her even when sleeping. The thought of her sweet face with its large brown eyes and forever hanging tongue stung my eyes with tears.
I hugged my comforter tightly around myself and curled up into a miserable little ball of sadness. My poor old girl, a mutt of indeterminate origin, always so happy and filled with the unconditional love only dogs are capable of, now buried under a magnolia tree in my backyard. Usually at this time of night, I’d be fighting to reclaim at least half of the bed for myself after she’d sprawled out across it, all four legs digging into my back. Now all the space was a big, empty reminder of my loss.
When I heard the floorboards creaking outside my door, I bitterly thought that it was the cruel trick of a settling house adding salt to my wound. It was just another reminder of Mystic, who would pace in the hallway, eagerly waiting to start the day with her morning walk even though the sun wouldn’t be up for hours yet. I shoved my head under my pillow and begged for sleep to reclaim me.
That’s probably why I didn’t hear the handle turn quietly or the door open and close again. I didn’t even register the footsteps that crossed over to my bed. You always hear about how you can feel someone standing over you, that you’ll just know you’re being watched, but that didn’t happen to me. Grief has a way of blocking things out. I didn’t have any warning or time to react. My covers were torn from me and I was held face down against the mattress with my pillow pressed roughly over the back of my head. I tried to scream, but the sudden weight of someone on top of me forced the air from my lungs. Dread surged through me and I struggled underneath my attacker, whose ragged breathing quickened. I kicked my legs futilely, trying to buck him off, but he was so heavy.
When he began tugging at my pajama bottoms, I flailed wildly. There was no rhyme or reason to my movements, just blind panic and the animalistic certainty that if I didn’t get him off, I was going to be hurt, very hurt. My efforts earned me a sharp crack of his fist between my shoulder blades and another into my ribs. His muttering was muffled by the pillow, but I could make out “stupid bitch” and something about me wanting it. I managed to release a short yelp, but he put an end to that by lifting the pillow and laying a few more blows to the back and sides of my head before shoving my face into the bedding.
My lungs burned with the effort to breathe through my mattress. Dizziness assaulted me, a loud ringing filled my ears, and I could feel myself getting weaker. I slapped at the thick fingers pulling my waistband down, but he just shifted himself so that he was kneeling on my hand. I squeezed my eyes shut and moaned, long and low, “No, no, no…”
The scratching started so softly I almost didn’t hear it. He certainly didn’t seem to, he was too distracted by trying to unbutton his pants. He also didn’t seem too concerned by the high pitched, frantic whining of a dog outside my bedroom door. In the foggiest back corner of my mind, I thought that the combination of desperation and the hits to my head were making me hallucinate. He had managed to get his pants to his knees when the entire door shuddered in its frame. That made him pause.
He was off balance, tangled in his pants, and his attention was on the door. With whatever strength I had left, I threw my entire body into a roll that sent both of us over the edge of the bed and onto the floor. I heard him curse and felt him pawing at my arms and legs, trying to grab hold, but I kicked him as hard as I could wherever I could and scrambled on my hands and knees to the door. He was right after me, thundering across the room without any of the silent finesse he’d used to get in. Just as I pulled the door open, his fingers tangled in my hair and yanked my head back.
The door, which had started to drift shut again, exploded inward and the darkness snarled. We both froze, staring at nothing but an empty hall, but the growling grew deeper, more menacing, and closer.
“What the fu-” He started to say, but his words dissolved into shrieks. The arm that had hold of me started to shake violently back and forth as if he were being dragged by something. I wrenched myself free and sprang at the wall to hit the switch, flooding my room with light. My attacker, a beast of a man, was lying on his back on the floor, one arm raised to protect his face, the other held at an odd angle away from his body. Its flesh was in red ribbons. A chunk was gone from his bicep. The more he fought and screamed, the more viciously he was attacked by his invisible assailant.
My legs turned to jello beneath me and refused to support me any longer. I slid down to the floor, my back pressed against the wall, and I watched helplessly and in horror as the skin on his neck beaded red like small rubies and then was just…gone. His screams turned into gurgles and then into nothing at all.
I stared at him, trembling, and tried to remember how to breathe. I would never be able to explain what happened, not in any rational way. My thoughts jumbled together in a hysterical whirlwind of fear, disgust, and, admittedly, some relief. I clutched my head and sobbed uncontrollably until I was almost hyperventilating. What could I tell the cops? My friends and family? The nosey neighbors? I had never had a panic attack before, but I was pretty sure I was teetering on the brink of one. And then a familiar weight rested itself on my knee. I couldn’t see her, but I could imagine her so clearly, lying beside me with her chin in my lap, staring up at me with adoration. When I looked down, the thump of her tail sounded against the hardwood. With a shaking hand, I sought out a velvety soft ear and scratched it just the way she liked.
“Good girl, Mystic.”