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12 Steps

Andy was sitting comfortably on the couch watching Happy Days when he first heard it. It started softly, as if from far away, but in what seemed like seconds it was overwhelmingly loud.
Andy had been excited when his parents told him he would be staying home alone over the weekend. To him that meant endless food, endless TV, and two night of staying up till three in the morning. He hadn’t counted on the humming. It was a disturbingly catchy tune, very dark and sinister with high notes, low notes and no apparent chorus. At first he thought it was coming from the neighbors. They were a newly married couple and it seemed as though they were always blasting music of some kind. But a few minutes later, as it became steadily louder, it became obvious that it was coming from outside, from right below the window. He muted the TV and held his breath. The humming continued. Quickly, he reached up and slammed the window closed. He listened. There was silence. He turned the sound back on the TV and watched Fonzi walk in and greet everyone with a resounding “HEEEEY!” But he could still hear the humming. This time it was in his mind.
That night Andy lay in bed, the humming all but forgotten. The sinister tune had left him, but the feeling of dread had not. He had once read that successful sleepers hypnotized themselves with a nightly routine; if that was true than his routine started with him staring at the ceiling. Tonight he was past that stage and was lying with his eyes closed, preparing for his date with the sand man. Then he heard it again. It was same strange tune, the same on-key humming. Only this time it was closer. This time it was inside. His eyes immediately burst open. Below the humming were heavy footsteps. They were going up the stairs. His heart was skipping a million beats as he counted the steps the hummer took. (1 step, 2 steps…) He had once counted the number of steps it took to get from the stairs to his room. For him it had been fifteen. For an adult he guessed a dozen. There were three more footsteps and the humming seemed to grow a mile closer. Without noticing, Andy began to make up words for the ominous song.
“I Saw this kid home all alone,” (6… 7…)
“So I thought I’d come to visit,” (8…9…)
“I’m a family friend from the grave,” (10… 11…)
“I hope you like that place because you’ll soon be in it.”
The final footstep came and Andy could hear the labored breathing behind the song as the hummer stood outside his door. The humming suddenly stopped and was replaced by a bitter silence. Gently, the door knob began to turn. Slowly and deliberately, the ex-hummer cracked the door open and a bright beam of light hit Andy like a spotlight. He silently scooted against the wall and hoped he hadn’t been seen. It seemed to take hours for the door to open. Andy watched as a tall, hunched figure entered the room. With the light behind the figure Andy couldn’t make out any details. He was glad; he saw what he needed to, as the killer stepped in the room: the ominous glint of a knife.
The killer slowly walked into the room with an awkward grace. He didn’t look around. He didn’t have to. He headed straight for the bed and was there in three steps. He stood next to the uneven lump in the sheets and a demented smile crept across his face. He effortlessly raised the knife above his head. He could almost see it. The knife would plunge into the kid’s back. It would crack the ribs and sink into the soft, vulnerable organs beneath. Then he would pull it out and uncover the kids face so he could see his expression when he finished him off. With sickening grace he brought the knife down and into the flesh of the helpless boy. But something didn’t feel right. He ripped the sheets off and stared down at a pillow.
Andy couldn’t have breathed if he wanted to. All he could see were the man’s boots, but somehow even the boots seemed menacing. He had barely gotten under the bed as the door knob had begun to turn. And he was glad that he had. In sickening terror he had watched the knife point come through the bottom of the mattress. He watched the boots turn and take a single step. It suddenly struck him that he could make a run for it. There was space. He dangerously eyed the open window. He could jump right through the screen. He would fall about ten feet but he would survive. But, was he really going to try it? Yes. He decided. He kept running over the plan in his head. Three steps, maybe four, then through the window and free-fall to the ground. He took a slow, quiet breath and prepared to take the biggest chance he had ever attempted. But what if the man turns around? He thought. What if he’s expecting me? He could almost feel the cold blade cutting his throat. He hesitated, and then ran.
***




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