The Breathing

A short horror story by Isaac Petrov

It’s pitch blackjust the way I like it. Complete darkness and complete silence, there are no better companions when waking up in your own warm bed in the middle of the night.

Well, except for you, of course, my love.

Your breathing is a soft murmur to my right. Slow and delicate. Regular like clockwork. The perfect counterpoint to this brief moment of silence before I fall back to sleep. My bliss is complete when I reach out with my right hand beneath our sheets and, for an instant, delicately trace the side of your arm.

Knowing my wife is there, beside me. Oh, love, it just makes me whole.

Except tonight, something is different. Something is… out of place. Yes, love. Yes. Something is wrong. I know what you’d say if you were awake, and no, it’s not the smell. That doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s… a noise. You know how sensitive I am to noises. Actually, I think that’s what has just woken me up.

I know, my love, but no, it’s not the damn flies this time. You know how you get used to their constant buzzing after a while. No, this is something else. A noise that wasn’t there before.

I think there’s something in your breathing.

Yes, yes. Not so regular, actually. Almost agitated. Are you dreaming, perhaps? Having a nightmare?

I’m tempted to wake you, but perhaps these dreams will do you good. Wise people say they’re therapeutic. I think I’ve seen it on one of those brainy shows on the Discovery Channel, you know? And after your missteps… well, good sleep and intense dreaming might be just what the doctor ordered.

Although now that I think about it, these bad dreams probably mean you still aren’t over it all. And if that’s the case, I must admit I’m a bit disappointed in you.

I mean, you know that, deep inside, I’m not a man to hold a grudge for long. I swear to God that chaining you to the bed last week was more painful for me than for you. But you’ve been so good recently… Oh, I’m so proud of you. Listen, I promise that tomorrow, when you wake up, I’ll give you some water. It’s time. I might even add a toast, with jam and butter, just the way you like it. And if you finally hand-on-heart repent, we could even start talking about removing those chains for good. Because we both know you will never, ever do it again. And I will love you even more for that, if that’s even possible.

If only you could stop breathing like that. It’s… unnatural. That erratic puff… That rasping wheeze… Sorry, my love, but… are you trying to piss me off again? You know how sensitive I am to sounds.

Hold on. That’s not you! Who is…?

Oh, God. The breathing is… is getting louder! Louder and deeper. And it’s… God, it’s coming from the left! Can you hear it too, love? Like there’s something there, next to the closet, perhaps sitting on the corner chair. But that can’t be, can it? We’re alone in our bedroom. 

I know that in the deep darkness beyond midnight, everything seems possible. But this just can’t be… I’m a rational man. II watch the Discovery Channel, for God’s sake.

Yet there’s no denying it. Somewhere in the darkness, next to my side of the bed, something is breathing.

And it’s as if that thing can read my mind—as if it can sense the spike of terror flooding my spine with icebecause as soon as I become fully aware of its presence, it grows louder, more… guttural. Andoh God!it’s closing in!

Perhaps it can feel my racing heart? Or can it see in the dark how tightly I shut my eyes?

Whatever it is, the presence approaches, its breathing louder, more eager; a sudden heave sounding almost… what, human?

Almost human?

And as it moves, there’s a rattle now, at the edge of hearing, like… some type of  metal. Like… like dragging chains.

I can hear my own breathing quiver now. All I can do is control my chest, slow down my lungs to a steady rhythm. I focus on your respiration, love. My sanity hangs on your every breath.

I want to fall asleep.

I want it to believe I’m asleep!

I swear to God, I can hear lips parting with something akin to thirst, as it finally settles next to my bed.

Next to my head.

So close, I can hear it swallow beforeGod, I can’t stop myself from gaspingit breathes on my neck!

I know it’s watching me. If it has eyes, that is. And if they can pierce the thick black of night. But in my state of mind, I’m sure its eyes are locked on the side of my head, inspecting my shut eyes, my own fake breathing. I can feel the pressure of its hungry gaze. For how long, I don’t know. Who can possibly count under such terror?

And then the presence hisses unintelligible words of… What is it, hatred? It… It’s gotta be! The way the presence slices its invisible tongue, or how it hisses through its decaying teeth and putrid gums, its stench filling my nostrils like a foul maelstrom of madness. Hatred, yes. I just know it is.

In the storm of terror and adrenaline surging through my veins, I can barely hear my scream. As my mind is about to sink in itself forever, my left hand reaches in reflex at the bedside lamp and, with a jerk, flicks the lights on; my eyeswide open nowflinching left towards the presence.

But there’s nothing there.


Just the empty chair and the closetcomfortingly solid in the warm light.

Reason begins to dissolve the absurdity of my experience like lava in a small pond. It was a vivid dream, nothing else. A hallucination. You’ve always said that I imagine things that aren’t there, don’t you, love? And there’s never been place for hatred in our nest of love.

I take a deep breath, welcoming soothing oxygen into my lungs, and turn my gaze towards you.

Thank God I didn’t wake you up.

I find it so comforting to just watch you sleep…

So quiet, in your chains and piss.

So beautiful, your open eyes.

So inviting, your gaping mouth.

I wave those damn flies away and put a kiss on your cheek.

Sleep on, my love.

Dream on.

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