Nightfall brings unease and gloom, forcing chills down Gabby’s spine as she lays in bed. She hesitates to drift off to sleep on 13 Wistful Way, the house she inherited from her Aunt Kacie’s passing. Since moving into the lone home in the wooded area, Gabby experiences inexplicable sleep disturbances. Night terrors and episodes of sleepwalking drain her energy and put her on edge. 

Gabby fights the urge to wake Roo and Arlo, two of her closest friends who rent the remaining bedrooms. She reaches over to her nightstand, grabs a sleep aid and washes it down with water. A short time later, her breathing steadies and her consciousness ebbs away. 

Creak. Creak.

Gabby jolts upright and spots Roo’s petite body standing at the foot of her bed. Her ruffled, blonde hair hangs just above her sagging shoulders, and she rocks back and forth wearing a face devoid expression. 

Creak. Creak.

The old hardwood flooring squeaks with every sway of Roo’s body. Gabby gazes at her friend, then draws in a deep breath.

“Uh, Roo?” She struggles to speak and forces a gulp down her throat.

Creak. Creak.

Gabby peels the blankets off and slips out of bed. She places a gentle hand on Roo and leads her back to her bedroom. After tucking her in, Gabby walks back to her room, then locks the door. I guess I’m not the only one experiencing episodes of sleepwalking.

Her mind wanders, and the clock ticks away before she’s able to settle enough to drift back to sleep. Visions of a grim reaper materialize; he stands over her and releases a menacing cackle. The hooded figure raises a scythe and glares through her eyes, into her soul. His demonic existence taunts her, forcing her heart to race and her body to shiver. She opens her mouth to scream, but the reaper renders her silent. He smirks, then swings his scythe downward and slices her throat.

Gabby’s eyes fly open, and she tries to examine her neck but finds her body incapacitated. Her sleep disturbances have reached another level–sleep paralysis. She’s forced to wait for the immobility to fade and focuses on her breathing and remaining calm. A couple of minutes tick by before she’s able to move and inspect her throat. Finding it unscathed, she relaxes, then looks at the clock. Sleep evades her, so she drags herself out of bed. 

Gabby stuffs her bushy, brown hair into a disheveled ponytail, then heads to the kitchen. Arlo sits at the table, his nose tucked into the day’s newspaper. She walks up behind him and thumps the back of his head.

“What are you doing up so early?” she asks.

He rubs his close-cropped auburn hair, then whacks her arm with the newspaper. “Looks like your damn night terrors are contagious.”

She sits in the chair in front of him and furrows her brows. “If they’re contagious, how the hell did I get them? Before my mom died, she hadn’t suffered from them.”

“Well, I had one hell of a nightmare last night.”

“Roo had quite a night, too. She sleepwalked her way into my room. I found her swaying at the foot of my bed.”

Arlo burst into laughter. “Better lock up the kitchen knives, cuz little Roo is sleep-stalking!”

“Yeah, it’s weird. Even though I’ve been sleepwalking, I’ve only ended up in my bathroom. I didn’t leave my bedroom.”

“Well, if you do decide to leave your room, feel free to come into mine and clean it up. It’s a mess.”

“Fat chance, Arlo.” Gabby stands up and grabs a banana and toast before heading back to her bedroom for a shower. 

Later that night, the three friends sit on the porch discussing their strange recurrences of nighttime disturbances. Though a full moon sits high in the sky, a canopy of trees masks its light, disallowing illumination of the ground. 

“I can’t believe I ended up in your room,” Roo begins. “I don’t remember a thing.” She shivers then pulls her yellow sweater snug around her body.

“So, what happens if we all sleepwalk on the same night?” Arlo asks through laughter.

“It’s not funny, Arlo. Something’s not right,” Gabby offers. “Why are we all experiencing this?”

“Gab, do you think your Aunt Kacie’s house is haunted? I mean, wasn’t she crazy or something?”

“Whoa there!” Arlo interrupts, then reaches into the cooler and pulls out two beers. He tosses them to Roo and Gabby, then grabs one for himself. “Come on ladies, this house isn’t haunted.” He pops the lid off the bottled beer, then takes a swig before finishing his thoughts. “Now, kick back, have a beer, and stop stressing.”

“Well, that’s easier said than done,” Gabby adds. 

The friends head to bed around midnight and hope for an uneventful evening. Gabby’s anxiety grows, so she swallows an extra dose of sleep aid, then climbs underneath her covers and drifts off to sleep. 

She feels her body moving, and her bare feet ache from the cold. She looks down and realizes she’s standing in the damp grass at the far end of her backyard, holding a flashlight. Am I dreaming? She shines the light around to scan her surroundings. 

The moon glows high in the sky and transforms the treetops into dark arms towering over her, and threaten to seize her. She shifts her gaze downward and spots large tree roots in the raised terrain just beyond her property. The grotesque finger-like appendages churn her stomach.

Unsure of whether she’s standing in her yard or caught in another nightmare, Gabby decides to turn back. She shifts the flashlight toward her right and finds Roo hunched over an object on the ground.

“Roo! Are you okay?”

Roo looks up from the ground and reveals a bloodied mouth and incognizant eyes. 

“No! No! No!” Gabby yells, then slaps a hand over her mouth when she realizes the object in the grass is a dead rabbit. 

Roo loses interest in Gabby, then continues devouring the gutted rabbit.

Gabby fights the urge to retch and faint, then heads toward the house. “Arlo!!” Tears stream from her eyes and run down her cheeks. “Arlo!!”

She spots movement beyond the driveway and slows her pace. Arlo steps out from behind a large oak tree, wielding a long knife.

“Hey there, Gabby,” he begins. “Check this out.” He places the blade at his wrist, then slices a deep gash up his forearm. “I can’t even feel this. It’s pretty wild.”

Gabby’s jaw falls open, and she drops the flashlight before rushing over to him. After yanking the knife out of his hand, she flings it into the bushes, then lifts his sweater. “Hurry, take your shirt off!” 

“Wow! I didn’t know you felt this way about me,” Arlo jokes.

Gabby ignores him and wraps the clothing around his wound. “Wait here,” she orders. “I’m going to get my cell phone to call for help.”

She bolts toward the house and rushes into her bedroom. Tripping over a boot on the floor, she falls and whacks her head on the nearby dresser, then goes unconscious.

Howling winds and invasive sunrays rouse Gabby. She lifts her head and finds herself lying in bed. Oh my God. Must have been another night terror!

Gabby climbs out of bed and walks to Roo’s bedroom door and steps inside. Relieved to find her friend sound asleep, Gabby slips out of her room and heads down the hallway toward Arlo’s room. She enters and sees him sleeping as well, then heads over to his bed, and takes a seat by his feet.

“Arlo. I had another night terror. I–I think Roo may be right. Perhaps my Aunt Kacie’s house is haunted.”

Arlo’s silence annoys her, so she smacks his legs. “Damn it, Arlo. Get up! I need to talk.”

She rolls her eyes, then peels the blankets away from him. The color drains from her face as she finds Arlo laying in a pool of blood, his wound unwrapped. She extends a shaking hand to touch his pale skin. Cold–Clammy–Stiff–Dead.

She screams and stumbles backward. Unable to stand, she drops to the floor. Bursting into tears, Gabby wraps her trembling arms around her legs.

Remembering a slumbering Roo down the hallway, she forces herself to her feet and heads to Roo’s bedroom.

“Roo! Oh my God, Roo! Wake up!” 

Gabby rushes to her bed and yanks the blankets off, revealing another bloodied friend. She spots dried blood all over her friend’s mouth and clenched hands around her throat. Fearful of passing out, Gabby supports herself against the mattress while reaching out to her friend with her other hand. Cold–Clammy–Stiff–Dead.

Gabby’s knees give out, and she collapses. Someone’s warm arms catch her before she lands on the floor.

“Gabby, hunny,” speaks a soft voice. “I’ve got you.”

Gabby licks her parched lips, then opens her eyes. Unable to focus, she struggles to make sense of what she sees. After squinting to sharpen her vision, she realizes it’s Aunt Kacie. Her beautiful red curls hang down, dangling past her shoulders. Impossible. I’m having another night terror.

“A–Auntie, you aren’t real. I–I must be dreaming.”

Aunt Kacie giggles. “Gabby, darling, you aren’t dreaming. And, now that your evil friends are gone, I promise to stop drugging you at night. No more hallucinations.”

Gabby gasps and moves away from her aunt. “W–what are you talking about?”

“Oh, Gabby, my darling,” Kacie begins. “I faked my death. I intended to get you to move into this house with me–not your friends. So, I helped them to end their lives.”

Gabby gives the back of her hand a pinch, checking to see if she’s in a wakeful state. Wincing from the pain, she shifts her gaze back toward her aunt.

“The ceiling fans in all the bedrooms have been rigged to emit a hallucinogenic smoke by the flick of a switch!” Kacie snaps her fingers. “After ya’ll went to bed, one-click turned it on. Really, it was quite amusing.” She brushes her palms together and giggles.

Gabby’s hands tighten into fists, and she glares at her aunt.

“Arlo is such a smart cookie,” Kacie rambles. “He was right–my house isn’t haunted. Roo was a fool to think so.” She gives a dismissive wave. “Anyway, Arlo essentially took his own life.”

Gabby’s stomach churns, and her eyes fill with tears.

“And, Roo likely thought she was eating a roasted turkey, and gobbled away like she hadn’t eaten in a month. She choked on the rabbit’s leg.” Kacie giggles. “So much for thinking they’re good luck.” 

Gabby squeezes her eyes shut, trying to will away reality. She reopens them, and her stomach plummets at the sight of her crazy aunt still standing before her. Gabby’s eyes flicker with rage.

“Gabby, darling,” Kacie begins. “Don’t look at me like that. The evil is gone now. I promise not to drug you anymore. And, I gently tucked each of you into bed last night. That should count for something.”

Without uttering a word, Gabby gets up. She spots a pair of scissors on Roo’s desk, then pushes past Kacie to fetch them.

“What’s the matter, darling?” Kacie asks. “You look troubled. Gabby dear, I can no longer tolerate my niece being consumed by others. Your possessive mother disallowed a relationship between us. Thanks to my help, she’s gone. But, the same thing was happening with those evil friends of yours. So, I fixed the problem. Isn’t that great?” Kacie clasps her hands together, and her eyes fill with glee.

Gabby grabs the scissors, then steps toward her aunt. She swings them upward and forces the tip into Kacie’s neck. Blood spurts out and pools on the floor. Kacie’s eyes widen, and she collapses.

Gabby looks at her fallen aunt, but her vision blurs from escaping tears. “Now, the evil is truly gone,” she mutters.