I’m exhausted, but I don’t want to go to sleep. I’ve ingested dozens of Mt. Dews and caffeine is sweating out of me. I haven’t slept for more than a few hours these past four nights and I can barely think straight. But I can’t fall asleep. Because I’ll wake up and think about Middy.
Middy is the kid who lives next door to me. It’s a horrible name for a seven year old girl, but it suits her. Middy is a brat. An annoying, little prima donna. She always talks about how she’s gonna be famous one day since she’s such a great singer and such a great dancer. She does have a bit of a following on YouTube and Vine since her overindulgent and exploitive parents (Howdy! We’re JoAnn and Gerry from St. Petersburg, Florida!) were constantly posting videos of Middy’s antics and their precious little girl had a habit of dropping the occasional F-bomb for the camera.
But the most annoying thing about Middy is that, for some reason, she’s really nice to me. Whenever she saw me, a big smile would erupt on her face and she’d wave at me using both her hands. I’d wave back (because I’m not a total asshole) and she’d follow up with an accented, “Good Day!” like some snotty Downton Abbey girl.
A week ago, however, Middy said something else to me besides her pretentious greeting. It was early evening and I had just stepped out of my house to go on a jog. Middy was on my driveway, doing some kind of dance move or impromptu seizure. When she saw me, she did the double-hand wave and asked me if I were a writer. I was a little unnerved. No one in my neighborhood knew that I was a writer – I’ve only written one book – and I had kept my conversation with Middy’s parents to the bare minimum. So I wasn’t sure how Middy found out.
“How did’ya know?”
“My mom Googled you. She bought your book.”
“Really? Did she like it?”
“She loved it!” Middy smiled and giggled at me. She was a terrible liar.
“Great. I got go now.”
“Wait! I gotta another question.” Middy paused waiting for my response, the strands of the pink ribbon in her hair pointing at me like insect antennae.
“Do you hear his voice when you wake up?”
“What? Whose voice?” Her question threw me. Was she playing some sort of game with me?
“The voice of the man who wakes everyone up.”
“What man? On TV? Radio?”
“Uh-uh. The man who is all around us.” Middy spun around in a circle.
Was this the beginning of some God conversation? What a precocious little shit. “I don’t have time for this, Middy.”
“You don’t hear him? My mommy hears him. I’m not the only one.”
“You mom is just teasing you.”
“No, she’s not.”
“Then maybe you should talk to your dad.”
“I can’t. He’s out of town, taking meetings. I’m gonna get an agent!”
“That’s great. I gotta go now, Middy.”
“Listen. Next time you wake up. You’ll hear him.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll see ya.”
I took off running before the parting “Good Day!” she spit at me reached my ears at full volume. I felt a little bad since I never saw Middy playing with any other kids and she probably was only looking for someone to talk to. But she was being creepy and like I said, I didn’t like the kid.
As the night progressed and I went to bed, I forgot all about our conversation. But when I woke up the next morning, fifteen minutes before my alarm sounded, I thought I heard a voice. A raspy, phlegmy male voice that had whispered the word: SIN. The eerie word crawled through my body and lodged itself in my stomach. I didn’t get out of bed or even move until the alarm went off. After I took a shower, the uncomfortable feeling left me and I was able to think up some new colorful words to describe Middy. I couldn’t believe I had let the kid’s stupid story get to me.
After breakfast, I stepped outside and once again saw Middy on my driveway. It was after eight o’clock and the kid should’ve been in school, but she was standing and staring at me as if she had been waiting for my arrival. She wasn’t smiling and she wasn’t waving, and before I could ask about her truancy, she ran up to me, shouting.
“Did you hear him? Did you?”
I pretended I didn’t understand. “Hear what?”
“Really?” It looked like Middy had the same bullshit detector as me.
“I don’t want to play this game, Middy.”
“It’s not a game! Tell me what you heard.” Middy crossed her arms like a disappointed mother.
“Fine. I thought I heard someone say the word, SIN.”
“That’s not right. Listen better.”
“Why don’t you tell me what I’m supposed to hear?”
“No way! How am I supposed to know if you really hear him or not?” Middy wasn’t dumb, but that hardly mattered.
“Middy, this is dumb. I’m not doing this.”
“Please! I don’t know who else to ask.”
“Middy. There is no man who wakes people up.” I couldn’t believe I was continuing with this conversation. I had no experience dealing with crazy kid shit.
“Yes, there is!”
“It’s not true, Middy. Most people wake up with an alarm.”
“He HATES that. Sometimes he wakes you up before the alarm.”
I tried to stifle a laugh. “He’s got the timing down and everything?”
“I dunno. Sometimes he waits. You sleep and you sleep and he wakes you up late.”
“He sounds like a real jackass.” I felt OK saying jackass because I had heard Middy use it before. “I’ve got to get going, Middy. Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“I’m homeschooled now!”
“I see. I’ll talk to you later.” As I headed off to my car to run some errands, Middy followed me.
“Keep listening! Keep listening! My mommy thinks that–”
I got inside my car and closed the door before I could hear the rest of her sentence. I couldn’t imagine how much therapy Middy was going to need in her life.
The following morning I woke up an hour before my alarm. I had heard the voice again. It was such a God-awful voice, the kind of voice that would eke out of a dying man. The voice was still unclear, but this time I thought I had heard two words: IT’S SEVEN.
I saw Middy later in the afternoon. She asked me once again what I had heard. The words had hung in my mind all day and had given me a headache. Reluctantly, I told her I thought I heard a man say, IT’S SEVEN. She said that I was getting closer. I didn’t like the way Middy had elongated the word “closer” as if she were deliberately trying to unsettle me. So as a joke, I told her that maybe I had actually heard, IT’S SATAN. Middy frowned and said I had issues. I didn’t mind the misdirected rebuke because it ended our conversation.
On the third morning, the alarm woke me up. But I was feeling extra tired and lazy so I slapped it off and went back to sleep. It was a terrible mistake. Thirty minutes later, my eyes popped opened when the voice returned. The voice had been louder, closer, as if an unearthly being had licked the edge of my ear. I sat up in bed, terrified. The voice had wormed its way into my brain, causing my ears to ring like a concert aftereffect. I had clearly heard three words, this time in the form of a question: IS THIS HIM?
I didn’t understand the meaning of the words, but something was wrong. I felt sick. Nauseated and dizzy. My skin was cold and damp. I felt like I had experienced something vile, unnatural, and my body was punishing me for it. I curled up in bed and tried to breathe slowly. And deeply. I reminisced about some of the best times of my life hoping that those thoughts would soothe me.
An hour later, I still felt like shit, but I needed to use the bathroom. I held back the urge to throw up as I relieved myself. As I shuffled back to bed, there was a light knock at my door.
I opened the door and Middy was standing outside. She looked worried.
“What’s wrong, Middy?”
“My mommy’s sick.”
“Really? What’s wrong with her?” My stomach began to curdle again.
“She woke up sick. The man’s voice made her sick.”
“What do you mean? How sick?” My heart rate increased which aggravated my nausea.
“You shouldn’t listen anymore.” Middy turned and began to walk away.
“Middy! What does the man say?”
Middy turned back to face me. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Does he say, IS THIS HIM?” The ringing in my ears returned.
“I have to go home.”
Rationality began to seep out of me. “Middy! I’m sick too! What’s going on? What did I hear?”
She shook her head. “Just stop! Stop listening!”
Middy scampered away. Panicked, I trailed after her. “IS THIS HIM? What does that mean?”
Middy shouted back to me before darting inside her home. “That’s not what he says!”
I barely made it back to my bathroom before throwing up.
That evening, as I started to feel better after managing to keep down some cereal and a banana, a chorus of police sirens infiltrated my neighborhood. I was lying on my couch and didn’t feel like investigating, but after a while it sounded as if a crowd had formed outside my house. I tapped into my energy reserves and went outside to see what was going on.
Most of my neighbors were standing on my driveway, starting at Middy’s house. There were several police cars and an ambulance parked along my street. I walked over to one of my neighbors, Delores, a mother of four. She was crying.
“What’s going on?”
“Gerry’s dead! They think the wife – JoAnn – killed him!”
“They’re looking for her – she took off in the car with the little girl. God, I hope she doesn’t hurt her!”
“I saw Middy earlier. She said her mom was sick.”
“God damn right! He’s been dead for several days! His body’s been in the house all this time! If a relative had’t stopped by to visit…”
I felt the banana I had eaten earlier crawl back up my esophagus. I mumbled something to Delores and rushed back inside my house.
Too shocked to think (or puke), I crawled back into my bed. Someone, maybe a police officer looking for helpful info, knocked on my door. I ignored it. I didn’t want to do anything but lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. I couldn’t believe Middy’s mother had killed her father! Middy may be a brat, but she didn’t deserve anything like that.
Hours passed and I fell asleep. I know I had fallen asleep because the voice had once again woken me up. A tremulous voice of haunting desperation that begged for recognition. All at once, it became clear to me that the voice belonged to Gerry, and I finally knew what he was trying to say:
IS THIS HEAVEN?
Four nights have gone by and despite my efforts, I’ve drifted asleep many times. But my sleep lasts only minutes or an hour, at best. I keep waking up to the sound of those three dreadful words, that heartbreaking question, groaning into my ears. Fear is really the only thing propping up my weakened body. I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to sleep again. That I’ll never want to sleep again.
I hold onto the last shreds of my sanity thinking about Middy. Hoping that I’ll hear the police have found her, safe and sound. Because the thing that scares me the most is that the confused, lonely whimper I’ve started to hear, along with Gerry’s ghastly voice, belongs to a little girl’s lost soul.