3LBE logo

One in the Morning and One at Night

by Gemma Files

1137 words

How it happens is simple, like any other accident, any other wound. Alena is walking to the garbage, a bag in either hand, when suddenly she’s seized by the notion that if she turns her back on the utterly empty end of the hallway — lamps outside each door hanging like bleached lanterns, slack and odd, deflated pod-cocoons — something dimly globular will immediately eddy ’round the corner like a plastic bag caught in an updraft and unfurl itself into a flatly whitish figure which will then move down the hall toward her, zig-zag style: back and forth in a scuttling, insectile motion, partly crawling and partly slithering, partly gathering itself as though to pounce.

And: One in the morning and one at night, something says from the back of her head, clear as any passing wasp’s whine. One in the morning … and one at night.

Stupid, impossible: Where’s this coming from? Yet she finds she can’t close her eyes against it, can’t even shake her head; there’s no dismissing — whatever it is. This struck bell. This resonance.

Soon she’s back in her apartment, the upper clasp-lock firmly seated, with both bags still moping in the kitchen. Tomorrow, she tells herself, she’ll take them down to the corner and shove them through the slot for recycling, because it’s bigger. They don’t stink that much.

But her dreams smell of decay that night, and a tone runs underneath everything, a hiss. The dead-technology sense-memory of static on an empty channel.

• • •

And then, going down to the recycling room, there’s that incredibly dark elevator with the brass fittings and the dicey ceiling lighting, completely mirrored inside, so that all you can see around you is an infinitely regressing series of darknesses. What if the thing she didn’t exactly see upstairs was to come blowing in between floors as it grinds its excruciating slow way down and unfurl just below her sight-line, so that she’s sure it’s crawling her way but unable to confirm or deny that suspicion — unable to predict exactly when, not if, it might suddenly jump up and plaster itself against the glass, right in front of her face?

One in the morning, the no-voice says from much closer, now — next to her ear or perhaps even inside it, its lack of breath tickling the drum. And one at night….

(But it’s not even afternoon, Alena thinks, ridiculously.)

She bolts the second the doors chunk open and makes the mail-room, then stuffs both bags down inside the flip-top bin meant for junk post. Let the cleaning staff deal with it; they’ll be right not to thank her, but then again, they won’t exactly know who to not thank, short of ripping them open and going through her egg- and coffee-saturated detritus.

Stairs back up again, two by two, pulling herself by the railing, fast as she can manage. Her heart hammering harder with every fresh step, until the spit in her mouth tastes like blood.

• • •

I have a thought in my head; remove it for me. Was that Pepys? Googling doesn’t seem to help.

Half a week running, she dreams that the apartment bathtub, hidden behind its opaque shower curtain, is occupied by something pitifully long and thin, its boneless arms crossed over a concave breast in some sort of parody of repose. Above, its head tips back, noseless, eyes rolled ’til only a feeble gleam of ball shows in the sockets’ deep shadow.

It smiles at her when she draws the plastic back with shaking dream-hands, as though trying to prove itself no threat. Wet teeth in the dark, elongated from shrunken gums.

She wakes sweat-covered, chilled, praying to find herself alone. Thinks, without wanting to: One at night.

Morning finds her elsewhere, roaming the streets outside, trying to outpace whatever the voice wants to show her, by the feeble breaking light of dawn.

• • •

“You look tired,” Alena’s mother says. “And … dirty, too. Frankly, dear, you don’t smell nice.”

“Something wrong in the building,” Alena tells her. “They’ve had the water off, for … three days, almost.”

Her mother frowns. “Is that legal?”

“I think I’d know by now, if it wasn’t.”

Her mother talks some more at her, and Alena just nods her head, submissive. No point in arguing, especially when she can barely hear what she’s saying.

One in the morning, and one at night. One in the morning, and one at night. One in the morning…

She entertains brief fantasies of a world without either, perpetual twilight, infinite dusk. Thinks: This’ll pass, it has to. I just … have to stop thinking. I have to stop thinking of these things. Get them out of me, someplace I can catch hold of them, like bugs. Crush them. Burn them. Wash them down the drain…

Writing them down doesn’t seem to help, though, either. It only makes them more palpable, somehow … more definite. More real.

Moving ever closer, unseen, unstoppable, no matter what she does, or doesn’t do. One in the morning, always. And then, as day ticks away, eventually…

…one at night.

• • •

These thoughts which come with utter insistence into her mind, so intrusive and strange and palpable it’s as though they originated in someone else’s brain. That come without warning and without reprieve, so strongly she frankly begins to fear it’s the mere fact of her ever having been stupid enough to pay them any mind in the first place which will, inevitably, eventually force them to come true.

Did she invite this? What brought it on? Was it something she did? Something she is?

Is there nothing she can do? Nothing to stop doing?

(Nothing, the voice repeats, from deep inside her own throat, setting her larynx vibrating with the tiniest possible hint of sympathy. Nothing, no. And, then—)


Something, always, at the corner of her eye, in the dark, in the light — fluttering, scratching, crawling. Something behind every door, around every corner.

So by the end, Alena finds herself alone in her room, crouching, unable to get comfortable. Too afraid to turn on the light, but too afraid to be in the dark; afraid to look, yet afraid to look away. Too afraid, as the old phrase goes, to either close her eyes, or open them.

Hands over both ears, fingers dug in deep, deaf to everything but the hiss of her own pulse, the shuddery thump of her heart. But hearing her own brain repeat, nevertheless — again and again, without pause —

One in the morning.
And one at night.
One in the morning.
And one at night.
and one
and one

• • •

I have a thought in my head; remove it. Take it out.

Take it out, oh Christ. Take it.

Just take



Gemma Files is an award-winning author with a twenty-year career in dark fiction and poetry, probably best-known as the author of the Hexslinger Series (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all from ChiZine Publications). This year, other short pieces of hers will appear in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clockwork Phoenix 4. She is hard at work on her fourth novel. Follow her on Twitter at @gemmafiles.

Issue 23

May 2013

3LBE 23

Front & Back cover art by Rew X