For a moment, I think, I could be anywhere. I am in total darkness, hauled backwards out of a dream, violently removed and spit out into a black hole. But there are blankets, and warmth, and a green glow from the numbers on the clock giving shape to the room. And there are the dogs.
Murdoch’s voice, agitated, throaty, slices through the house as though he is standing beside me. And there’s Molly, her steady, deep bark filling in the gaps around Murdoch’s piercing alarm.
I glance at the clock, 1:30, and stare into the darkness, wait and see if the blare from downstairs will stop as abruptly as it started. I could just grab on to the last tendrils of sleep, ride them back to wherever I was before all this started. But Murdoch becomes more insistent; so I throw back the covers, stumble from bed, wonder what’s out there.
The tiny sliver of a moon is long gone from the sky, casting the woods, the house, into a heavy darkness. I feel my way down the stairs from the bedroom, step carefully into the living room, strain through the barking to listen for cats under foot. I don’t turn on any lights. If there is something outside I want to see what it is even though it is too dark to see anything.
I stop beside the windows on the stairs down to the kitchen, look up at the sky. The stars are brilliant. Bold, silver orbs scattered across the blackness, their cold points of light giving some definition to the sky against the black shapes of trees. It is so still and dark the barking becomes more jarring, completely out of place.
I would normally have said something by now. Called out to the dogs to tell them it’s fine, but tonight I move quietly down the stairs a part of me believing if I don’t engage with this moment beyond observing, it will be like I was never there, as though I didn’t get out of bed or wake up even. If I stay quiet, I can slip back to bed and into sleep as though I never left.
But my mind is already turning over, though I try to ignore it, that tiny flame of panic in response to the insistent, alarmed, barking. What is out there?
In the entryway the dogs are loud black shapes against other black shapes. I move slowly towards the window, bumping first into Molly and then Murdoch, their furry bodies warm and solid and moving around my legs like hungry cats. I almost fall over one of them in the dark and have to feel my way around them with my hands. I see Murdoch’s curled tail against the slightly lighter shade of black at the window as he moves in the direction of the door, still barking.
It is too dark to see anything outside. I turn my face away from the window try to see movement with my peripheral vision. But there is nothing. Finally I have to shush the dogs.
“Okay,” I say, adding my voice to the moment and becoming present. “Enough. You’re fine. It’s fine. There’s nothing there. And nobody is going outside.” In the ringing silence that follows, I hear the staccato beat of a dog barking in the distance, and then Murdoch starts again with fervour.
“Are you kidding me?” I say, rolling my eyes to the dark ceiling, this is why I was so rudely awaken? “Murd. Enough. Stop.” It is quiet just long enough for me to get back upstairs and in to bed with the light on so I can read because now I am well and truly awake.
For the next hour I can hear the dog in the distance. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t un-hear it. Murdoch and Molly join in every few minutes and I yell “okay” and “enough”. I read and watch the clock and finally I turn off the light, grateful for the total darkness of the moonless night, and the silence.
I close my eyes and wait, surprisingly relaxed, I think, surprisingly unconcerned about the early hour as though I might just slip back in to the moment when I was ripped from sleep. I feel like I am on the cusp of it when Murdoch’s piercing voice slices through the silence, ricocheting from his mouth in layers the way it does. I push myself up on my elbow and scream into the room until my throat hurts, “MURDOCH!! STOP!” Which he does, abruptly, and I throw myself back down on the pillow, resigned to a night of lying awake, waiting for the next outburst. But nobody says a word.