We couldn’t run the air conditioning, even though the humid Ft. Myers, Florida, night was in the high nineties. I couldn’t afford it; with my ex-husband refusing to help me raise our three children, I was left to scrape money for food and clothing, and had no means to worry about pumping cool air through the house.
My daughter hated it, but I gave her a firm no when she asked if we could turn it on.
“Fine,” she said angrily. “I’ll sleep on the couch, then!”
The couch was downstairs, in the coolest part of the house, but even our dog avoided it. The story went that someone had been murdered there — or at least that’s what the previous homeowners had told us in hushed voice. While decorating the downstairs, I’d noticed marks in the concrete that looked like bullet tracks, and the faintest trace of what might have been a large, circular bloodstain showed up when we had the carpet replaced with tiles. When I’d found it, I’d run upstairs to call the police, hoping maybe there was an investigation open, but my husband had slammed the phone down.
“We don’t involve them,” he’d said.
Now, I wondered if it was too late.
I jerked awake in the middle of the night, the feeling in my gut alerting me to go check on the kids. The boys and Jake, the dog, were snoring uproariously in their room, but even their safety did not abate the twinge in my stomach. I fumbled for the light switch at the top of the stairs and almost screamed.
Staring up at me from the bottom of the stairs was a pitch-black figure, shaped like a man but with no facial features, just a void where his nose and eyes and mouth would have been. I clapped a hand over my mouth as he turned and drifted out of sight, towards where my daughter was sleeping. Pulling myself out of my stupor, I charged down the stairs, my frantic mind believing it was my ex-husband, returned to hurt us some more.
But no one was there. I pulled aside curtains, peered under couches where no one could have fit; I checked everything. All the doors and windows were locked, and my daughter slumbered peacefully on the couch.
I stood over her, hand over my heart, trying to will my breathing back to normal.
My daughter’s eyes suddenly flickered open. “Mom? How long have you been standing there?”
“Wh-why?” I asked.
She told me: the entire night, she’d been trying to sleep and failing, feeling as if someone were hovering over her, watching her.
I strode across the room and turned the dial that clicked on the air conditioner. My daughter’s face was a mixture of pleasure and confusion.
“You’re sleeping in my room tonight,” I informed her.
The next day, we packed and left without proper notice to the landlord.
Can you blame me?