The Watcher by Kristin Rix

She first noticed the scratches as she folded her husband’s underwear into the top drawer of his dresser. Deep, short grooves had been clustered together in the back left corner, a patternless spray of white wood shining out of dark varnish. She held one pair of dark blue briefs against her chest as she bent closer, trying to discern where they’d come from. A water ring had evaporated the varnish from a spot nearby, the provenance of that clear and sensible. But not these marks. That part of the dresser was in a spot where the bedroom door created a shadowed “v” of darkness because it didn’t have enough room to swing completely open. She moved around so that she was positioned in that corner next to the scratches, and looked up. Her eyes immediately fell on the pillows where she and her husband slept each night.

The sound of her husband arriving home shook her out of her inspection, and she went to greet him. She casually mentioned the marks. He admitted he didn’t know anything about them. He’d never seen them before, he said, shook his head, and went out into the living room to watch television. She finished folding the underwear and tucking the pairs of socks into little round packages, all the while never turning her back to the marks. Even turning to the side, she could see them out of the corner of her eye and her skin tingled in the spot between her shoulder blades, a feeling she tried to shake off.

After dinner was finished, they washed the dishes and then watched a movie. Her husband turned in early. “I’ll be in soon,” she called to his retreating back. She had no desire to go to bed, though. She spent several hours on a free online gaming site until her mouth felt fuzzy and her muscles were sick with pent-up, unused adrenaline. Finally she washed her face, brushed her teeth, changed into her pajamas, and then crawled in bed with a book.

The corner was across the room and a little to the right from their bed, and therefore just over the top of her book. Her eyes kept drifting there, and with all the lights off but one, the area seemed drenched in impenetrable shadow that she nonetheless kept trying to pierce. She felt as if she were being watched. By 4:30 her eyes were heavy with exhaustion, and drifted closed.

She came awake an hour later. The apartment was still around her, and very dark despite light filtering in from the cracked bathroom door to her right. Her body was tense, and she was having trouble breathing. She looked into the dark corner but could see nothing. Her husband stirred, rolled over and draped an arm across her belly. Her book lay open next to her. When he’d settled back into deeper sleep, she tried to take deep breaths to calm herself down.

And then she heard it. At first she didn’t quite understand the sound, so she tilted her head back and forth several times to triangulate it, identify it. It was a quick sound, a scraping, a scratching, a fingernail against wood. She imagined in that sound small shards of sharp wood digging deep beneath the nail, driving into the soft, sensitive tissue. She blinked and realized she had started to fall back asleep again. The corner, she thought. The sound. Turn on a light. But she couldn’t move. It was partly her husband’s heavy arm still draped over her, and partly a feeling that she didn’t want to know, that having noticed the scratches was more than should have happened. To know would be to bring to life the dark secret fear her primal brain was keeping from her. It knew something, it was warning her away.

Having come to this understanding, her body was shot with adrenaline and she was wide awake. And yet, she could still hear the sounds, the long drawn out deep scarring sounds. Her hands clutched the edge of the comforter to her chin like a child. Her husband’s arm pulled away, and he stirred, rolling over to look at her. Then she grew angry and sat upright suddenly, her arm whipping out to the side table and pulling the chain that turned her bedside lamp on. There, in the corner, stood the pale thin form of a woman in a high-necked lace dress. The woman stood with a rounded back, her chest and face hovering over the corner of the dresser, one hand curled into a claw and pulling back across the surface of the wooden dresser in short, fast movements, her eyes dark pools in white snow, locked on the bed where the couple.

Her husband screamed.


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