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It all began when I moved out of state for school. The college of my choice had an incredibly good architectural program that I wanted to get into. There were two slight problems before moving. First was getting a job, which didn’t prove too difficult in this college town. The second problem, that seemed a little more challenging, was finding an apartment that I could afford. In this town, even a small room off campus wasn’t cheap.

By some miracle I found one listing after seemingly endless hours of checking openings. The ad in question was for a small two-story house in an adjacent town that was within my price range. Considering how short of time I had before moving in time for the semester, and there was nothing else as cheap, I immediately took the room. I moved into the house with a few possessions I took with me. The owner was a young woman about my age named Michelle. She was a slim figured woman with a shade of yellow hair that almost looked white. Her eyes were also the bluest of blue I have ever seen in a person. She was a really big help to me while I was moving my things into the house and unpacking.

The house was a small two-story Italianate style home sitting on a luscious green lawn. Michelle told me the house had belonged to her grandparents and needed some refurbishing. I thought the house looked beautiful. The style and setting combined with the right amount of aging gave the house a picturesque look. It could easily have come straight out of a painting it was so beautiful.

The first detail I noticed of Michelle was her sense of fashion. She was dressed in a dark reddish-brown sweater, and brown scarf to blend with the color of autumn around her and the property. She completed the look with blue skinny jeans and black boots. The other detail I noticed, upon closer inspection, were the slight but recognizable bags under her eyes, which suggested to me she had been suffering from sleep deprivation. I wouldn’t have noticed this given how much energy she gave off. She must’ve been caffeinated to the gills to help me out that day. I didn’t say anything to her about it, though. I only had one chance to make a good first impression with my first roommate.

We got done moving and she showed me around the house. My room was on the main floor. It was a bare, green walled empty room aside from a bed with complete headboard, an antique dresser with a mirror attached to it, and an opened walk-in closet. My mind was already planning on how to decorate my room. Then she led me upstairs and informed me that her room was on the second floor. Below the stairs I noticed a large, framed picture of an old man with a blank, expressionless look on his face. He both seemed to be staring at the camera taking his picture, and also staring at me with some unnatural fashion. I asked Michelle who the old man in the photo was. She starred at the picture, also with a wide-eyed, fearful look on her face. She flatly said it was her grandfather, then quickly turned up the stairs, as if to get away from his unending gaze.

Now as far as the rules go, she didn’t have a lot of them. At least, none that were extreme, but she told me one. Actually, it wasn’t so much a rule as it was a little warning that made me scratch my head in confusion.

“I don’t really remember doing it,” she explained, “but people have told me that I tend to make noises late at night, and I tend to go on for a while. I lowered the rent because I feel like it’s the least I could do if it bothers you. All I ask is if you hear anything from my room, don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. But if it gets to be too much, I’ll understand, and I’ll even reimburse you.”

It was a strange rule to be sure. Noises? What kind of noises? I then remembered the benefits I had of living here and thought to myself maybe it’s not a big deal. Maybe she’s just a loud moaner during some “late night sessions” and she didn’t want to put it into words for me. I didn’t press the issue. I thought to myself that I'd just have her privacy.

I was thoroughly exhausted after a long day of moving things into the new apartment, but Michelle was a big help. She purchased take-out that night, what she called her “Move-In Special,” which consisted of a pizza, some Chinese food, and an order of taquitos. I’d normally prefer something more nutritionally complete, but I wasn’t in the mood to debate. My body was ready to devour every carb in sight. I inhaled a little bit of everything, sometimes mixing them to make up some unholy abomination of take-out. The taste was funky and greasy, but I downed it all and felt like I could finish up with a pint of ice cream. With the help of my new roommate, I did. Exhaustion finally hit me like a brick wall and I finally turned in for the night, resolving to decorate my room in the morning.

I was awakened in the night by a sudden rumbling in my insides and I darted to the bathroom. The mixture of Italian, Chinese and take-out had not been sitting well and had turned my colon into a war zone. I exited the bathroom and heard a sound that reverberated throughout the otherwise quiet house. It took me a moment to realize it was screaming. A high pitched, shrill screaming full of danger and fear that came from the second floor. I realized it was coming from Michelle's room. Forgetting what she told me earlier, I ran upstairs to her room and knocked on the door. Her screaming was all that responded. I tried turning the knob, only to find it was locked. She kept screaming and I could hear thrashing and thumping as if she were being thrown around the room.

I called 911 and a police cruiser reached my house within minutes of my call. It was one officer who came, and I was struck by how similar he looked to Michelle. Slender body type, bright blond hair and blue eyes. He went by Officer Tiers, and he was, in fact, Michelle’s older brother. He had been on duty that night and happened to be in the area when my emergency call went out. I had gone upstairs with him and by that time, the screaming had stopped. He knocked on the door and Michelle opened the door in seconds.

“Hey sis,” he greeted with a smile at her drowsy face, “your roomie said you were screaming, and I thought I’d check on you.”

“I’m okay, Ben. Thanks for checking.” She ended by closing the door. Ben, or Officer Tiers, walked back out after filling out a report and was about to enter his vehicle when I stopped him.

“What was that?” I asked him. The incident of her screaming and now being okay suddenly was kind of unnerving.

“Michelle suffers from night terrors,” he said turning back to me, “she has for a long time now. It’s okay though. They only sound worse than they really are. If it happens again just call 911 and I’ll be over quickly.” He drove off in his cruiser. I had walked back inside, feeling weird about that night. I wondered to myself if this was the noise Michelle was talking about.

I saw her again the following morning. She looked more upbeat than I was expecting her to be. She was once again dressed in a fashionable sweater and jeans for her day. I asked her about the previous night, and she looked dumbfounded. I reminded her about her screaming, and her cheerful smile had gravitated downward.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a sad tone, “I don’t really remember what happens, but everyone tells me I have night terrors. I guess I’ve had them since I was a kid. I’m sorry about last night, but it’s really nothing to worry about. They don’t last long, and I wake up fine. If you want to leave though, I understand.” I felt sorry for her that moment. I told her it’s okay as long as she’s not hurting herself. Besides, where else could I go?

I stayed there for two weeks. Every night she had her screaming episodes. They would always occur between midnight and 3 am, going off and on with intervals. Just as I think she finally stopped and could go back to sleep, she starts up again. I could hear her screaming during the night since her bedroom is right above mine. Sometimes I’d hear her walk around the room and thrash against a wall or furniture as if she were sleepwalking. I wouldn’t be able to sleep during this whole time because the noise was so gut wrenching that I could never ignore it. During the mornings she would look so positive and chipper on her way to her classes, and I feel like I didn’t sleep a wink at all. She’d be out with her cheeriness, and I started feeling a resentment for her.

I started looking for changes in my schedule to find some relief. I tried looking for night classes and night shifts. I had to look for anything so that I wouldn’t be at home during the night and hear Michelle screaming. I found a position as an overnight stock clerk at a major retail company. I also managed to get classes for the morning. I never saw Michelle much, but I was glad to not hear her night terrors anymore. It was on the rare instance when I did see her, and I would notice something else.

I went to the bathroom one night and saw Michelle standing in front of the mirror. This was the first time I saw her without a sweater and jeans. That time, she wore a pink top and matching shorts. The skin of her exposed upper back showed signs of scarring and bruising. Her arms were also covered in bruises. I think I even saw traces of bite marks on her. The second time I was home, I was checking her room upstairs. The room, which was open at the time, wasn’t out of the ordinary. Some posters, a make-up table, and a bed filled the room. Then, the room suddenly felt cold and sinister, as if some unseen figure were inside, and dared me to enter. I never walked away from an empty room so fast in all my life.

It was my day off from classes and no work that night when I was home, and I would finally understand the story behind Michelle’s night terrors.

I came home after running some errands and was ready to drop when I noticed a bright silver sedan in the driveway I didn’t recognize. I walked inside to see Michelle, her brother, Ben, and two others I didn’t recognize, carrying rolls of some sort of insulation material. Michelle introduced the two older people as her parents, and they were over to help soundproof her bedroom. Her parents greeted me instantly with cheerful smiles and somewhat tired looks on there faces. I felt bad that I didn’t help them set up the material, but I had no more energy for even the smallest chore, and I wasn’t comfortable going back to that room anymore.

After my quick nap, I found everyone still downstairs. Michelle was going for takeout and wanted to know what I wanted. She left and I got to know her parents more. I had asked why they were soundproofing the room. They told me Michelle had noticed that I had changed my schedule so that I could avoid her sleeping patterns and get some rest. She had felt so guilty because she really thought of me as a friend and wanted to make some accommodations for me. Then they told me about the origin of her nightly episodes.

It was one day when Michelle was four years old. The family was visiting her grandfather, whose mental health had been declining after the death of his wife. Whenever they talked to him, he would say little, if anything and have a blank look on his face. They had noticed, however, that whenever he looked at little Michelle, his expression would change in a way that they could only describe as 'odd.'

They had spent the night at the house, thinking nothing of his behavior that evening. Later in the night, the parents heard a blood curdling scream coming from Michelle’s room. They darted to the room and found an obscured figure looming over her and wielding a large kitchen knife in his hand. The father had grabbed a lamp in the room and smashed it over the assailant’s head. They switched on the overhead lights and found that the intruder was the grandfather, who still held the knife in his hands. The impact of the blow had killed him instantly. Though she was physically uninjured, Michelle’s young mind could not process the event that had happened. What resulted was years and years of night terrors in which Michelle would scream her lungs out. It also wasn’t unusual for her to throw herself around the room and sustain some kind of injuries.

I had felt worse than ever after hearing about her tragic origin story. I complained about how her screams were keeping me up at night, but she was the one who had gone through a traumatizing incident. I think I would be more surprised if she weren’t having night terrors. I thought about what he may have been planning to do, and the thought made me shudder. Since I was off that night, it was one of the rare nights that I was home and was able to fall asleep instantly. The sound proofing must’ve done the trick, because I don’t recall hearing Michelle scream at all. I think I would’ve preferred that to what came next.

I had a vivid nightmare that night that I still recall with clear detail. I was in Michelle’s room and I had been screaming in the silent darkness in my room. I was afraid no one would hear me and not come to help, despite how loud I projected my wails. Above me was a dark silhouette of a person, whose face gradually came into detail. It was the face of an older man, wide eyed and a large grin splitting his face. He was what I was screaming at. I saw him throw me to the window and my body broke through the glass pane and shards surrounded me as I fell outside and fell to the pavement.

I woke up to the sound of shattered glass outside and a large thud just outside my window. I rushed to the window and saw the bruised and still body of Michelle on the driveway. She was motionless, and a pool of blood began to form around her head. I was horrified by what looked like a suicide when I heard a laughing above me. I turned my head upwards to Michelle’s shattered bedroom window, and my heart had dropped. The same grinning insane man from my nightmare was leaning over the shattered window with a glee on his face. I was sure he was looking at me before he had disappeared. He had seemed so, so familiar.

I had called 911 just like before, and once again, Ben pulled up to the house in his police cruiser. He stood frozen while looking at the lifeless cadaver that had once been his younger sister. An ambulance appeared behind him and took his sister away. They didn’t switch on the siren and lights. No point to it, as it was too late. This time, Ben wasn’t alone on patrol tonight and they both grilled me about what had happened. I think they were trying to pin me to her death, as if I had killed her. I wanted to tell the truth, but what was I going to tell them? That some psychotic old man had thrown her out the window and literally vanished before my eyes? If I said that, forget jail. I’d go to the psychiatric unit.

I told them I don’t know what had happened. I just woke up and found her dead outside my window. I think Ben really vouched for me and ruled that his sister’s death was an accidental suicide. I was turning back around and pass the stairs, when my body suddenly froze. My body was reacting to a very sudden, dreadful realization. I was once again looking at the picture of Michelle's grandfather, his flat expression ever starring into me. My heart had suddenly dropped and my blood seemed to have frozen in my veins. It was him in my dream. It was him grinning from the window before he evaporated like steam.

I packed up the next day, quit my job, and dropped out of my school and went back home. I wanted to go anywhere I could just to get away from that house. I never went back there. I wanna say that things got better for me after that, but that’s not how my story ends. Whatever that thing was had followed me back to my house. Sometimes I’d be asleep or awake, and I’d see that insane grinning man hovering above me. And then I would be the one screaming.

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