An old man cocked his ear upon a bridge;
"What's that noise?"
I sat up in my single bunk. I had spoken out loud, though there was no one else to hear me.
At first, in sleepy confusion, I didn't know where I was. I reached out for my bedside light. It was the wrong side of the bed. My hand collided with the cold face of the wall. Then, remembering where I was, I fumbled behind my head for the shelf that I knew must be there.
I felt the unfamiliar comfort of institutional central heating envelop my bare shoulders. I found my mobile and pressed the on-switch. Immediately a faint blue glow penetrated every corner of the featureless room. The walls seemed surprisingly close, compared to the bedroom I was used to; the one Rob and I had shared, right up to three nights ago.
The previous evening I had been led, along brutal walkways, into a battered stainless steel lift and finally ushered into my lodgings, a tiny suite. I scarcely had time to inspect the two rooms, one a study and the other a bedroom, or even to thank the janitor. Smiling, I quickly closed the door, before rushing straight into the loo. I was sick again.
I hadn't bothered to unpack before I fell, exhausted, into bed. So when I was woken in the night by what I thought was the sound of footsteps, I knew that there was nothing within the bare rooms to make any noise at all. There were no posters that could come loose, no clothes in the wardrobe to mysteriously slip off their hangers, no books to slide off a table.
I hadn’t even managed to work out how to open the window. No midnight gust had blown in, to disturb things. But now, as I swept the room with the beam from my phone, I heard the the footsteps again.
This time I was fully awake. The noise was definitely coming from overhead. It sounded like someone running across the room above mine. Except that there was no room above this one. I had been lodged on the top floor of what they call the ziggurats, a concrete pyramid of rooms, planted like a mountain in the flat fen landscape. There couldn't possibly be anyone up there.
Darkness can do strange things to our imaginations. Sickness can do strange things to our imaginations. I felt my forehead. It was as hot as hellfire. I sat there for a while, looking at the empty ceiling, waiting. Eventually the phone dropped into sleep mode and the bluish light went out. But still I waited, straining my ears for a repeat of the sound. Then, satisfied that there was nothing amiss, at least inside my rooms, I settled down under the covers. But after a minute or two, I began to sweat. I threw the duvet off and lay in my cotton nightdress, staring at the blackness above, that I knew was the ceiling.
Just as I was nodding off I heard the noise a third time. It seemed quieter now, like someone running in bare feet. But the footsteps were definitely human. And they were definitely coming from the roof.
© Wendy Shillam 2013