By Amy Pan
In the late, fading hours of a bleak, blustery night, in the midst of a sleeping, gray town, a light switches on. It is midnight, but sleep evades a certain insomniac. She pulls her restless self out of bed and slips down the hallway past her sister’s bedroom with a dog-eared, vintage library book tucked gently under her arm. She sinks into her favourite tattered armchair, a blanket draped over her cold feet. She turns on another light and flips to the first page of the book…
I was sitting by a window on a rainy Saturday evening with a paintbrush in one hand and my artistic dreams in the other when I was told that my parents went missing. Outside, the skies roared to compensate for my faintly beating heart.
“Off-road vehicle accident,” they told me, “truly unfortunate. We’re sorry for your loss, Miss Chartreuse.”
I doubted it. I saw their phony sympathy and looked into their empty eyes, devoid of compassion, and I doubted they were very sorry at all. I shut the door in their indifferent faces and sat, staring at my unfinished canvas for hours.
Alone, alone, all alone.
Two days later, I was sitting by the same window with a broken paintbrush in one hand and my sorrows in the other when they came pounding on my door again.
“Our suspect escaped custody yesterday,” they said, “he’s a free man. We regret to inform you of this, Miss Chartreuse.”
The same empty eyes had no regret in them whatsoever. They were as vacant as my heart, and as dull as the eye of the storm raging on outside.
With a sharp intake of breath she looks up from the novel. The sky shakes and rumbles, noises that strike her heart with misery. Thunder — oh, how she’s always hated thunder. The realization that the weather forecast was incorrect gives her a mild sense of amusement, but also a hint of irritation; her weekend plans will have to be altered. The family picnic will have to wait. For now, though, she flips the page.
The detectives see themselves out as I now drag myself back to the window and onto the metal chair. Oh, how gray and dreary the world is. My feeble limbs hang, loose like my grip on life. All of a sudden, the window’s corroded lock detaches altogether and the two glass panes clatter back and forth, opening and closing like a book. Frigid rain pummels the floor around me. I close my eyes and let the rain strike my face.
The stained glass window crashes open with a ferocious exhale from the gods, and an icy squall of December wind floods the room, raising goosebumps on her arms as its frosty touch grazes everything in its path. The light flickers.
She walks over to the window, exasperated and cursing her sister for forgetting to shut and lock the faulty casement as she heads back to the armchair. She flips the page.
The front door rattles again — my poor, poor door — and, after rousing myself from the comfort of the rain, I slip downstairs. Past the peephole I can see my greatest nightmare.
They’re back. Again.
I start steeling my nerves in preparation for another confrontation with the impossibly vexing detectives when I stop. I give up. I slide down the wall to my feet and let them thump away at my door.
I say nothing, but they continue away.
“The man who escaped yesterday? The suspect? He might be in this area. If you can hear this, Miss Chartreuse, we’re here to warn you.”
Still, I say nothing.
“Keep your doors locked. Don’t go out at night. And if you do, you’ll never miss him — his eyes are a striking blue-green, an emerald, a chartreuse…kind of like your name. Hello? Miss Chartreuse? Are you there?”
Nothing. I say nothing. I don’t care. Why won’t they leave me alone?
Soon, the voices retreat and I lie back on the cold tiled floor next to an absurdly large ceramic vase, numb and weary. I welcome sleep with open arms.
“Hello?” she calls out, voice quavering. The first words she has spoken in hours are met with silence — not a tranquil silence that one might feel in the moments before sleep, but, rather, an eerie silence that makes her feel as if there is someone else in the room.
Paranoid, she tells herself. You’re absolutely paranoid. She flips the page.
My senses come alive. My breath hitches as I jolt awake to feel ceramic shards dotting my bloody arm and a biting chill on the back of my neck.
A hand touches my shoulder.
I turn around and all I see are chartreuse eyes glinting in the moonlight like two haunting blue-green orbs. They blink, and that’s when everything ends.
Tap, tap, tap.
“Hello?” she whispers, shaking, “I can hear your footsteps — who’s there?”
Tap, tap, tap.
With every passing second, they creep closer, but she’s too paralyzed to move; her limbs are locked in place. They come closer. Closer.
A hand touches her shoulder.