Welcome to Part four of the current long story cycle (Cracked Windows). The links will be laid out in sections to cut down the total number we see on each post. You will be able to follow from week to week as needed when new sections appear.
Jerome woke in darkness and read three am on his bedside clock through bleary eyes. He glanced around the room but couldn’t pick out any details. Arial snoring softly beside him, shifted to her side as he sat up.
Something had broken the spell of sleep but he couldn’t find the source of the disturbance. Shadows shifted and twisted around the room and wind beat against the window. He couldn’t hear any rain on the roof or walls of the house but with the strength of the wind he was sure a storm was coming.
As Jerome leaned back in the bed, his head resting on his pillow, he heard the noise and knew that it had been what had woken him. A scratching tap against his bedroom window. He adjusted to his side, his back to Arial, and closed his eyes. It was a branch, upset by the wind, he was sure of it and the matter was settled as he began to drift off.
The noise happened again, more insistent this time. A chill had crashed through him and gave him a shudder. The skin on his arms and neck puckered in goose flesh. Still, just a stick on the window, but something about it pulled at him, tugged at his psyche. He needed to see the branch, needed to know that he was imagining things.
He tossed the blankets aside and dropped his feet to the floor as he sat up again. His eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness, though things in the room were still a mess of shadows. With a quick scan of the area around his side of the bed he stood up and allowed the blood to flow throughout his body unfettered. He felt light headed from the movement for only a brief moment before he reached forward and shoved a bit of the curtain aside so he could look outside.
Darkness, darkness that permeated the world at large, met him at the window. It felt like searching through a fog to see the dim lamp near the center of the street.
He couldn’t see any branches near the window. Nothing that would have made the scratching sound that had woken him. Jerome reached for his phone on his bedside table. After a couple taps, he found the flashlight app and shone it out beyond the window. He couldn’t see anything in the fog at the edge of his yard.
A chill swept through him, brought on by the frost slowly taking over his window. It had started at the bottom, the right side corner. As the frost expanded along the bottom of the window, the crackle tap sound that had woken him kept time with the frost’s growth.
Jerome reached out to touch it but it was on the outside of the window. Cold pierced through his hand, and up his arm to his spine, as he cried out in surprise and shook his hand away from the glass. Arial snored. Frost, in July, it wasn’t right.
A chill wind seeped through the window, into his bedroom. Jerome stepped back from the window and pulled his robe from the hook on his closet door. The thick terry cloth kept the chill at bay but didn’t put him at ease. After adjusting the curtains to cover the window, he stumbled around his bed to the hall door.
Through the night’s stillness he could hear the crack and popping noise in the living room. Here too, frost had covered the picture window and side windows. Moonlight fell through the frosted glass and diffused into the living room.
He leaned forward to get a better look at the glass of the picture window, in the side table lamp’s light he noticed something he hadn’t seen in the bedroom. Hairline cracks spread through the glass everywhere that the frost touched. As it spread he watched the cracks grow and the glass continue to crack and pop. Like water pipes in the winter, when frozen water expands in the pipe and cracks the seams, the frost ripped through his windows.
When it covered the entire window, the spiderwebbed glass swayed with the pressure of the wind. It buckled and bowed though not enough to shatter. It could change at any moment and there were few options of where he could go to avoid the blast.
Jerome raced back into his bedroom, back to Arial’s side. He shook her and called her name, then shook her again. She tossed, turned, and snorted a sluggish response. “Wake up,” he said. “We need to get out of here.” After a quick glance at the bedroom window, he placed his thumb and forefinger on one of her eyelids and pried her eye open. “Wake up!”
She jumped up and knocked him back, into the wall. “What…”
“We gotta go. Something isn’t right.” He glanced between the window and Arial and back again before he settled on her. He wasn’t sure he could describe the situation without sounding insane but he pushed ahead anyway. “The windows, I don’t think they can handle too much more. Let’s go downstairs till morning.”
Arial looked into his eyes, with hers half lidded. She hadn’t quite woken up fully and it didn’t look like she would reach a point where she could understand him.
He grabbed her robe from her closet door and took her hand in his. With a tug he pulled her out of the bed and she stumbled along behind him. The door to their basement was located in the hallway, halfway between the bedrooms and the living room. They would avoid any breaking windows in order to reach it.
Arial tugged and pulled to release his grip but she didn’t have command enough of her hands to give him much resistance. He had clamped tight around her wrist and wasn’t about to let it go. Even as he switched hands on her wrist to open the basement, she struggled to free herself from his grip.
As he was about to step into the stairwell, she twisted and freed her hand from his. She turned and stumbled away from him, toward the living room and the house’s front door. He caught her again before she could open it.
The look in Arial’s eyes stopped him cold. The world around him stopped, frozen in time as he debated his options. But he knew he could do only one thing, even though he was certain it would be the worst decision he ever made. He let her go.
With an air of grace she straightened up and adjusted her night shirt. She stepped away from Jerome, closer to the front door. Without a word she twisted the handle and pulled the door open.
He cringed, with his hands up to protect his face and neck. He expected the worst, or something. To be honest with himself, he wasn’t sure what it was he expected. But it didn’t matter. The area in front of their door was empty. Nothing waited for them to escape their home.
“I’m going back to bed.” Arial scratched her head and went down the hall without a glance in Jerome’s direction.
He peered out the door and across the street. The neighbors house sat in darkness. The street light between their houses had gone dark sometime before. Even then the house across the street sat in a darkness that felt wrong to Jerome. He had been so sure, but the summer air outside felt clammy thick. A storm was coming but he wasn’t sure when it would hit.
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