Outside my window a woman is screaming
. I can hear her distress drawn out in a metallic ribbon of sound
that wraps around my throat and makes it swell, makes it incapable of transmitting sound or breath.
There is no grace in being awakened this way, no warm quicksand between waking and sleeping. There is only a wrenching, a tearing, a catapult into a consciousness that shimmers like cobra scales and sounds like Shiva.
Not my bed. The walls, too - the angles are wrong, the ceiling is strange.
My body is out of this notmybed before my brain is firing correctly, propelled by adrenaline, by fear. Some tiny rational part of me is impressed by the efficiency of the reflex.
The scream again, pooling in my veins like liquid nitrogen.
I am shivering, my legs boneless in the dry desert
nightbreeze. Window open. Nothing to shield me from that noise and the thing (what is that thing) that is ripping the scream out of this anonymous woman. And who is she?
The rational part of me is growing like a night-flowering vine, soothing my heartbeat, moving me toward the window. I have to look, need to see. There is a puddle of moonlight between the bed and window, a tiny lake of mercury. I half expect to plunge ankle-deep, knee-deep into its silvery depths as I pass through it, but it is dry. This seems wrong.
When I arrive at the window, I am more than half-afraid to look out. The monster under my childhood bed has come to life; it is out there, inches away, real. How can I not look?
I scan the alien landscape; I am afraid, I am alive. Like a jellyfish sting from murky depths I remember - isn't memory like that? - I am visiting them, I am married, I have left him behind to sort out screams of my own...
I am here, not there. This is a temporary haven, a rest stop on the way to Wherever. I breathe, the way my yoga instructor tought me. My brain revels in the hit of oxygen and instantly the stars are enough to light up the entire world. And suddenly, there it is: down by the barn: a bobcat. She must have a brood of kittens to feed, and the lock on my parents' chicken coop is providing a frustrating challenge to her feline brain. Suddenly I am not other, not alien, not a stranger here - suddenly I am inside her head, ravenous and locked out and furious and lonely, saddled with tiny, furry responsibilities I never wanted or asked for.
The chickens are terrified. I can hear their claws and wings scrabbling inside the coop. It's so fast I can hardly believe it happens, the way my fear morphs into anger - Those chickens are NOT yours, I almost think - and I hiss at the great cat. This is not a noise I have ever made, and at first I am not sure who is more shocked. The cat tenses, glances wildly around her, then sprints toward the low brush. "Find a rabbit, fucker," I whisper as she disappears into the places the stars won't go. When I'm sure she's gone, I feel my way back to the bed, not my own.
At least I saved someone tonight.