For me, right now, it’s 3am, not quite four yet. Some myths call that time the witching hour. I wrote this some time ago–during the witching hour, in fact. It’s not from any particular book, though it features a character from the I&I books and is linked to them. Either way, it seems fitting to share it now.
Just don’t blame me if you can’t sleep. 🙂
Nora woke in total darkness, her heart hammering and breath short. She couldn’t hear those cues of panic, her body’s fight or flight response kicking into life; what she heard was the sound of someone rolling over down the hall, incoherent gibberish mumbled from the depths of sleep, and loudest of all, the grandfather clock downstairs welcoming the new hour in its deep, bone-penetrating baritone.
Staring across the room at the gleaming pair of silver eyes hovering above her dresser, Nora counted out how many times the bell in the clock tolled, the noise booming through the sleeping house, reverberating through her, and settling forever in her head as the sound of madness.
Three resonant calls and the clock was silent. As the last bell’s call faded into a drone that reminded her of church choirs singing a dirge, the eyes tilted ever so slightly, as though their owner had angled their head in interest.
Nora had never been awake at three in the morning before. Not once. She had been raised within her gran’s superstitions, so firmly believed in they were as much fact as the history dates or arithmetic Nora, her sister, and their cousin Emily had learned together. On the one occasion she’d woken, while staying at her gran’s, for a glass of water a half hour shy of three, her gran had hurried downstairs in her housecoat, the sides billowing open as Nuala chivvied Nora back to bed.
“You don’t want to be awake at that hour, girleen,” she could still hear her gran’s taut voice saying. “That’s the witching hour, and you’d best be asleep for it or doing a damned fine job of pretending y’are if ye don’t want to be taken away, d’ye hear me?”
Even though Nuala had been dead nearly fifteen years, her beliefs had stuck through Nora’s childhood and carried over to the adult woman. She was always home and in bed long before three, and if ever she’d woken and seen the clock near three, she rolled over and scrunched her eyes shut, faking sleep until it actually came.
That wouldn’t work this time, she knew. She had a debt to pay, and as the many-voiced chant of the witching hour took up where the clock had left off, she was wide awake.
Time, time, time, time. Your time, time, time, time.
Mind, mind, mind, mind. Your mind, mind, mind, mind.
Fine, fine, fine, fine. So fine, fine, fine, fine.
Mine, mine, mine, mine. All mine, mine, mine, mine.
Give us your mind, mind, mind, mind.
Don’t make a sound, sound, sound, sound.
Fingers reached out of the darkness of the smothered room: grey and knotted, with a mole on one knuckle that sprouted hairs, and filthy, sharp, yellowed nails. The hand followed, palm down, as gnarled and ugly as the fingers. Finally the thin, bony wrist emerged from the shadows and turned until the calloused palm faced upward.
The fingers beckoned.
It had been slow until then, a gradual decaying of her life to date and how she had defined herself thus far. Now she could feel the approach of it whistling at her like a killing, subzero wind. The little battles she had lost, like unimpeded speech abilities and control over strange muscle tics, were nothing in the face of this. This was being immobilized as her identity and humanity were stripped away bit by bit by shadows she couldn’t see no matter how wide she opened her eyes, her sense of self coming unravelled like a poorly knitted sweater, everything she had been, was now, or ever could have been cut away from her, down to her identification of herself as human.
She opened her mouth to scream and instead heard that damned chorus of voices again:
Scream, scream, scream, scream. Why scream, scream, scream, scream? Hear, hear, hear, hear. No one to hear, hear, hear, hear. Here, here, here, here. Come here, here, here, here.
Desperate now, she screamed despite the taunts, in a raw voice that sounded as though she’d actually been screaming since her birthday, more than eight months before in November. The Unseelie had waited until the seventh month to collect.
She never knew if it was her own scream or the laugh it drew from the shadows that fragmented something in her, created a fissure in the defense she had attempted to build for herself through which flooded the shadows and all their cold and dark and inhuman, soul-shattering howling with them.
Her family found her that way the next morning, catatonic in her bed, naked and arching her hips from the bed in a gruesome mimicry of release, lips drawn back in a feral snarl, eyes open and glassy like the work of a taxidermist, hands clutching at the sheets so fiercely the fabric had torn under the grip of her unnaturally elongated nails.
At the first tentative touch of a human hand, Nora had broken her mother’s arm and leaped off the bed in one graceful move. Before she could be restrained she kicked her little sister down a flight of stairs and did her best to strangle her father, all while what small scrap of herself that continued to fight screamed endlessly in the back of her mind, in discordant harmony with the shadows.
For three years she would scream like that without cease, and always with the voice in the shell of what had once been her mind reminding her there was no one to hear, hear, hear, hear.
Still she screamed, screamed, screamed, screamed, without ever making a sound, sound, sound, sound.