Growing up poor in the Deep South meant sharing a lot with my little brother, Ollie. Most often, we’d pass toys, clothes, and skin conditions between us. Up until he was six, we even shared a bed. Neither of us was happy about that.
It was my tenth birthday when that changed. I got one present that year, and it was a bed of my own. Ollie was jealous right away, and I could understand why. He had to keep that half-broken down frame with the worn out mattress. The one I’d gotten wasn’t much better, but not being broken and worn was enough.
Sleeping apart was a great feeling. It was freedom. No longer would I have to suffer the sudden and inexplicable kicks to the stomach. No longer would I wake up with Ollie’s foot pressed into my neck like he’d stepped on Dracula the night before.
At least, that’s what I’d thought.
Right away, right after I got the new bed, the shriek started.
At first I thought Ollie woke up in the middle of the night and screamed because he’d gotten scared. Then, the sound echoed through the tiny room again and I knew it wasn’t a normal cry.
The room was always black as pitch after sunset. The one window we had was pressed against a long leaf pine and even the biggest, brightest moon cast no light inside.
The shriek just about drove me crazy. Every night, probably at the same exact time, these sharp yelps would knock me right out of my dreams. It wasn’t my Mom or Dad yelling, either. I knew what that sounded like, believe me! Most worrying of all was the fact I could never tell where it was coming from. It seemed completely random.
One night it’d come from somewhere near the closet. The next, it’d shoot out from a corner of the ceiling.
Any hope I’d had of having my own space would get dashed every time as Ollie would silently slip into the bed with me, shaking like crazy. He’d clasp onto me and wouldn’t let go until it was almost daybreak. Most times I’d take his hand and tell him everything was going to be okay, that it’d be over by morning… but I was never really sure.
Over time, the shriek started changing. At first it was only by small degrees, but eventually it took on the primal hooting sound of a primate calling out its fierce warning. I had to clasp pillows to my ears just to keep from going deaf.
Mom and Dad never believed me or Ollie, basically because the thing… whatever it was… refused to make a peep when they were in the room. Apparently they couldn’t even hear it through the walls even though it was damned sure loud enough!
The shriek just got worse and worse until I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. Me and Ollie were doing really bad in school, and we just had no energy at all. I could sleep more deeply with my head propped up and eyes open in the middle of class than in my own room at night.
Then, thankfully, we moved out of the house nearly a year later. I had contemplated all sorts of things, even a child’s clumsy concept of suicide, to get away from the horrific nightly noise.
There was no problem at the next house. It was a nice white cookie-cutter home on a dead end street, and I welcomed the normalcy. What’s more, when we moved in there was a bunk bed waiting for me and Ollie. No more broken bed, no more second bed I ended up having to share anyway.
The only problem was deciding who’d get the top bunk.
I told Ollie I deserved it. After all, I had gotten a new bed way back, and he ruined it by climbing in every night.
“What?” He shook his head, “I never did that.”
I had always wondered why the noise stopped the second I was sharing my bed. Now I had the answer.