Terror By Night
by L.A. Krueger
Naomi Thompson pushed her limbs through the heavy atmosphere, driven by stark terror. Her hands flailed in the dark as she groped for the light switch. Finally she found it. Click. Darkness! Terror plunged deep into Naomi's heart. Waves of vertigo assaulted her as she toppled against the bedroom door.
Reeling, Naomi grabbed the door knob, steadying herself before opening the door, desperate to escape the surreal darkness. Soft green light flooded her vision as she stepped into the hallway. She made her way through the living room, every step draining more of her already waning energy. Naomi's mind raced to find a reasonable explanation for the bizarre happenings. She kept moving, slow and steady, toward the kitchen and the back door - her only possible means of escape. Trying to leave the house by the front door would mean certain death - the Watcher would be waiting for her there.
Naomi turned and ran to the kitchen, her mind desperate for any shred of normalcy. She stopped dead in her tracks as she faced the source of unearthly light - the microwave oven's clock. Her blood ran cold as she stared at the appliance, not wanting to look, yet unable to turn away. Time froze. Her mind whirled, threatening another bout of vertigo. Then - darkness!
Naomi's skin crawled. The hair on her arms and neck stood on end as the air sprang to life around her. Pain exploded in her right shoulder without warning. Her hand clenched in agony as talons gripped her, jerking her backward, deeper into the terror she could not escape.
She opened her mouth and tried to scream before the terror consumed her, but her throat betrayed her, holding her cries hostage. Mark! Help me! God, help me!
Naomi laid in bed, jerking restlessly, muffled cries escaping her throat in an attempt to rouse herself from the nightmare. But Terror still had her firmly in his grasp, his talons sunk deep into the base of her skull. His ecstasy swelled as he manipulated Naomi's vulnerable mind. Thrusting his bony claws deeper into Naomi's mind, Terror crouched close to her ear, whispering a familiar tale to her mind - a tale he had been speaking to Naomi for most of her life, each word pregnant with soul-gripping horror.
Furious scratching invaded Terror's reverie. His grip loosened as the noise penetrated the cobwebs he had spun in Naomi's mind. Terror reluctantly withdrew his talons as desiccated wings carried his twisted body to his assigned vantage point - the bookcase in the den.
Pen raced across paper as Naomi recorded fragments of her nightmare in her journal. Yet no matter how quickly she wrote, the details always eluded her. All she could capture were shadows of fright. Trading pen for coffee cup, Naomi paged backward through her journal.
"Dudley, can you believe my entries for the past year are almost all the same?" Naomi asked, still browsing. "By the way, thanks for waking me up when you did. Your timing was perfect. The bedroom door, on the other hand, is looking a little rough."
Dudley remained silent, eating his breakfast from a bowl on the kitchen floor. Nell, his sister, shared his food.
"Sometimes I wish I were a cat. No responsibilities. No worries. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll come back as a cat in my next life."
Dudley and Nell were often silent participants in conversations around the Thompson household. Dudley, black with brilliant green eyes, was a more attentive listener than orange and white Nell, but Naomi would settle for either in a pinch. The two cats filled a large void in Naomi's childless life.
"I don't think I'd be so frustrated by all of this if I knew that there was some purpose behind it all," Naomi said, closing the journal. "Maybe one day this will all make sense. But until that day, it's back to business."
Naomi finished her coffee before taking a shower. She dressed quickly, avoiding her reflection in the mirrored closet doors. Naomi took comfort in her favorite pair of denim shorts, a loose-fitting blue cotton blouse, and their ability to camouflage her extra weight. Her bathroom scale had signaled a gaining trend about a year ago, when she realized that her sense of precognition was back with a vengeance.
The nightmares and E.S.P. were connected. Naomi had experienced both since childhood, yet somehow they were different now, more intense and frighteningly real. Naomi shuddered as she recalled her latest premonition. For weeks she knew that something ghastly was going to happen - but what, or to whom, remained a frustrating mystery. Then there was the sensation that she was being watched.
Naomi turned quickly, half expecting to see someone standing behind her. "Oh, it's you." She scooped Nell off the bed and carried her to the kitchen. "Time for my breakfast, and then I'll finish my paintings."
She ate her toast in silence, washing it down with another cup of coffee. "Maybe today will be different," she muttered to Nell, whose round green eyes stared lovingly back at her. "I've got to call Mark."
Leaving her purring companion on the bar stool, and the breakfast dishes on the island counter, Naomi called her husband from the den. She sank into the couch, trying to compose herself.
Dudley, sleek and black, sauntered past Naomi. He sat purposefully in front of the bookcase staring intently at the top shelf, teeth chattering, and the tip of his tail twitching excitedly. Dudley's staring unnerved Naomi since she saw nothing on the bookcase worthy of his rapt attention.
"You're quite a piece of work, Dudley," Naomi said, shaking her head as she dialed the phone.
"Good morning, Kitten Kaboodle."
"Good morning, Mark. Busy?" Naomi asked.
"Not as busy as I'd like."
"If every day was Christmas it wouldn't be busy enough for you."
"True. The computer came in this morning."
"Don't touch anything! I'll be right in!" Naomi said, already half off the couch.
"Don't you need to finish your paintings for the show this weekend?"
"I have plenty of time. Besides, I could use a diversion." Naomi regretted the words as soon as she said them.
"What do you need a diversion from? Did you have another nightmare?" Mark asked.
"No, nothing like that," Naomi lied. "You're right. I'll finish painting and come in after lunch. I love you."
"I love you, too."
Naomi hung up the phone and threw a pillow from the couch in Dudley's direction, hitting his hind quarters.
The cat sprang into the air and skittered out of the room. "There's nothing there, Duds. You're freaking me out."
If Naomi had the keen spiritual sense of her cat, her teeth would have been chattering, too. The bookcase appeared normal enough to the naked eye. Naomi's library dominated the shelves - art, fiction, science fiction, and well-loved books from her childhood. There were also a growing number of books on UFOs, mysticism, psychic phenomena and reincarnation. It was these books that the three unseen beings were delighted over, certain it was the beginning of a collection so seductive and distracting that Naomi would forget about her past vow and be forever blinded to the Truth. They almost lost her once and had paid dearly for the blunder. They knew it would mean their miserable lives if they failed their master a second time.
Terror, Despair, and Self-Pity, three demon spirits assigned to Naomi Thompson, watched her from atop the bookcase in the den, each one more foul and putrid than the one before him. Their sunken, dead eyes darted between Naomi and Dudley.
"Perhaps that beast can meet with Disaster or Calamity," Despair sighed.
"Never mind that cat," Terror barked. "Just do as you've been instructed."
"Quiet! Do you want him to hear you?" Self Pity asked, nodding toward a fourth being.
This creature stood beside the couch, eyes riveted on the woman. He gave a parting glance to the unholy trio before following Naomi into the spare bedroom that served as her art studio. For Joash, one of the Guardians belonging to the Host of the Lord, it was an honor to watch over Naomi while being ever present before the face of God - an attribute given only to guardian angels. And because of this unique station, Joash held no discourse with any of those who had given their allegiance to God's enemy so many ages ago.
Standing nearly seven feet tall, Joash resembled a man, but closer inspection would have revealed otherwise. One of the most obvious differences was the brilliant manifestation of God's glory surrounding the Guardian - shimmering whiteness so bright that it would have blinded mortal eyes emanated from the timeless being, while every color of the rainbow danced in the whiteness like bursts of never dying fireworks.
Another difference between the Guardian and mortal man was the immeasurable love that shone in his eyes as he gazed upon his charge. Joash had been with Naomi from her conception, attended her birth, and had been with her every moment since. Now with her life hanging in the balance of eternity, he would remain faithful, even unto death.
Blue, green and violet watercolors transformed the blank canvas into a moonlit seascape. Stepping back, Naomi squinted behind her spectacles, scrutinizing her work. "That's it," she said. Satisfied with the outcome, she traded her palette for a hair dryer, quickening the drying process. When completely dry the seascape would be added to the stack of paintings for Saturday's art show at Santa Juanita Park.
Naomi put away her supplies for the day, closing the bedroom door behind her to keep out two very curious cats. She washed up and fixed a light lunch, gulping it down as she perused the newspaper. Then she left for the shop.
Naomi drove her maroon Corolla west along Seabreeze Drive then merged with the last wave of San Diego's summer tourists driving along Santa Juanita Boulevard. Knowing that their livelihood relied heavily on tourist dollars did little to quiet Naomi's irritation. By the beginning of September the crowds would thin out and Mark would begin obsessing over Christmas. That was another source of irritation for Naomi.
She was never quite sure if Christmas was really a religious holiday or a holiday merchants had conjured up for profit. In all fairness, she had to admit that Hanukkah was getting almost as commercialized. At least we held out longer, she thought, turning with the herd on to Seacoast Avenue.
Naomi fought bumper to bumper traffic the last few blocks to Shoppes By The Sea. She parked on the far side of the lot and walked to Kitten Kaboodle, enjoying the delicious blend of salty Pacific Ocean breeze mixed with the heady aromas of freshly ground coffee and baking bread. Grains of Life and The Daily Grind sat opposite each other along the meandering path that twisted through the shopping center. Naomi continued on the cobbled path past Celestial Books, Earrings Galore and Mommy & Me. Twenty shops in all were scattered among hibiscus, jasmine and eucalyptus trees. Rough cut wood store fronts sported hand painted ceramic tiles bearing the stores' names, lending a Spanish flavor to The Shoppes.
Opening Kitten Kaboodle, a boutique offering cats and their humans everything they could ever need and then some, had been a gamble Naomi was more than willing to take. She had never felt comfortable working for someone else, being on their schedule, and working for their dream. Persuading her husband was another matter entirely. Mark, a very stable, predictable man, was not given to flights of fancy. But after crying enough tears to float Noah's ark, Naomi convinced him it would be worth the effort. Now, five years later, Kitten Kaboodle was one of the most successful businesses in Santa Juanita.
Naomi pushed the front door open, letting the ocean breeze in ahead of her. The wind danced with the feather and Mylar cat teasers on either side of the cash register before Naomi pulled the door shut behind her. Tricia, a petite, blonde high school graduate, and the Thompsons' sole employee, sat behind the counter.
"Hi Tricia! How's it going?"
"Pretty good. Are you ready for this weekend's show?" Tricia asked.
"A couple more eleven-by-seventeens and I should be all set. Where's Mark?"
"In the office unpacking the computer."
"I asked him to wait for me," Naomi said, rushing to the office in the back of the store. "Mark! What are you doing?"
"I got so excited about this thing that I decided to unpack it for you." Black and white spotted boxes, Styrofoam packing, cables, computer components and manuals were strewn about the office. Mark was grinning from ear to ear, sitting on the floor in the middle of everything.
"Look at this mess!" Naomi breathed deeply, harnessing her anger. She finally exhaled, composing herself. "Where do you want the computer?" Naomi asked as she cleared Mark's desk.
"I don't care. As long as I can play games on this thing I'll be fine." Mark got up and hugged Naomi from behind, squeezing her tightly. "I'm sorry I didn't wait for you. I was just trying to help."
"I know. I'm sorry. I just wanted us to do this together." Naomi placed the mini-tower on the floor between the wall and desk, and then set the monitor on the corner of the desk. "Hand me the keyboard, those cables and the phone cord," she said, pointing to the various items on the floor.
"We still on for the carnival tonight?" Mark asked, handing Naomi the requested items.
"Definitely! I wish Lorna didn't have to work late tonight. The carnival won't be the same without her and Sam." Naomi finished connecting the components and plugged the computer in to the powerstrip. "Would you care to do the honors, Sir?"
Mark sat at his desk, cracked his knuckles like a concert pianist might, turned on the monitor, and then the mini-tower. The machine whirred to life and began its setup routine. "It works!"
Naomi pulled a chair along side her husband. They spent the afternoon wading through tutorials, surfing the Internet and playing footsie beneath the desk.
"If I have one more bite I'll burst!" Naomi tossed the half eaten cotton candy into the nearest trash barrel.
"Want to go on the Ferris wheel and neck?" Mark asked, wiggling his eyebrows.
Naomi elbowed his ribs playfully as she flitted between the try-your-luck booths, looking for a game she might actually be able to win. She was wathcing the lights dance across the tops of the booths, pushing back the darkness, when something caught her attention.
"Let's have our fortunes told! Come on!" Naomi sprinted ahead of Mark and stopped in front of a booth marked MADAME ZARINA - $5.00. A large, robust woman - presumably Madame Zarina - sat behind a card table draped in black velvet. Naomi sat across from Madame Zarina before Mark could object.
"You would like your future told?" Madame Zarina asked in a husky Eastern European accent. She reached across the table, gently taking Naomi's hand in hers.
"Yes, please," Naomi said, then stuck her tongue out at Mark.
Madame Zarina held Naomi's hand in hers, palm up, and studied it. After a few nondescript grunts and moans Madame Zarina spoke. "Your life is on the verge of great change. This very night. I see a dark man leading you into new realms of enlightenment. You have often wondered about your special gifts, the gifts of insight you have experienced before. Soon you will learn to control them." After a few seconds of silence, she released Naomi's hand. "That is all."
"Incredible! Mark, it's your turn." Naomi stood and motioned for Mark to sit with Madame Zarina.
Madame Zarina took Mark's hand and studied it. A troubled expression crossed her face. She quickly forced a smile before speaking. "Your business will continue to prosper. You will have a long, healthy life." She released Mark's hand. "That is all. Ten dollars please."
Naomi fished in her purse for her wallet and paid Madame Zarina.
"What a racket! Ten bucks for a bunch of nonsense. `Gifts of insight and enlightenment.' We're in the wrong business," Mark laughed.
"That was fascinating!" she said, ignoring Mark's comments as they strolled away. "I wonder what's going to happen?"
Mark closed his eyes, touching his fingertips to his forehead. "I see it. You're going to go home with an incredibly handsome blonde named Mark!" He laughed, pulling Naomi close to his side.
"Is this some kind of sick joke?" Naomi's voice trembled. Her body quaked, and her knees buckled.
"Sit down before you fall down. Let me play the message again," Mark said, pushing the 'Play' button on the answering machine. Sam's broken voice filled the den once again.
"Naomi, Mark, this is Sam. I don't know how to say this, so I'll just come right to the point. Lorna was in an accident on her way home from work tonight. She didn't make it.”
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