I keep hearing footsteps. Every corridor I walk down, every corner I turn, I can hear them. But there is never anyone there. Sometimes, I see a figure out of the corner of my eye, then turn quickly and it’s gone. I tell myself it’s paranoia from spending so much time alone, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that there is someone else there, watching me. Waiting. But for what?
I work at the Teacup Museum. It’s called the Teacup Museum, but it also houses mugs, saucers and teatrays. I’m on the night shift, which suits me down to the ground, even though I originally applied for a job as a visitor assistant. I explained about my “condition” in the interview – I had to really as it’s the reason I was fired from my previous job – and they said they were also looking for a nightwatchman and would I be interested. I said yes, I would be very interested, and they gave me the job there and then.
My “condition” is DSPS, Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (yeah, you’d think someone might have come up with a better name) and it’s the reason I failed my exams (all of them), the reason I’ve been sacked from nearly every job I’ve ever had, and the reason I’m a rubbish person to go on holiday with.
For years, everyone thought I was just lazy and unreliable. I would tell people I had insomnia and they’d tell me to go to bed earlier, cut out caffiene, exercise more. I tried all of these things, and many more besides, but nothing worked. I could get up at six am, exhausted after two hours sleep, but by the time I went to bed again at ten pm I would find myself wide awake and unable to get to sleep until well after midnight.
It’s like my body clock is the wrong way round, which can be difficult to explain. Most people just look at you oddly and then tell you to go to bed earlier. The things is, pushing your body clock back is virtually impossible. You can push it forward, using chronotherapy, but it takes at least two weeks to complete a full cycle and is incredibly difficuly to maintain. Miss one day and you’re back to where you started from. In basic terms, living a “normal” life with DSPS is akin to having permanent jet lag.
I battled with mine for years. My mother would have to wake me every day for school and I often fell asleep in class. When I started work I would set at least three alarm clocks every morning, and I often slept through those. The longest I ever stayed awake was three and a half days, after which I passed out through sheer exhaustion and slept for fourteen hours.
Anyway, the night shift seemed like the perfect solution. So on my first day, I went to bed at seven am, got up at 3pm, then left to start my new job at the museum at eight. My shift was nine pm to five am and the museum was open from nine am until seven in the evening. The daytime security guards worked in shirts between five am and nine pm and they were the only people I ever saw coming and going. I think they thought I was a bit strange, but I was used to that.
My first week went smoothly. It was a boring job but I could take books and puzzles to help pass the time. I wasn’t nervous about being on my own, despite all the stories. Because they were just that. Stories. Made up to scare anyone who happened to be alone in the museum at night. It was silly really. I mean, what could be scary about a teacup museum? As the weeks passed though, I began to think about these stories more and more. I began to wonder why the previous nightwatchman had left so suddenly. Had something happened to make him leave? Perhaps it wasn’t the best job for me after all, all that time alone in a big empty building, with no one to talk to.
I am on my last patrol of the night. I am walking along the darkest, coldest corridor in the museum when my torch flickers and then goes out. I swear and click the switch on and off several times, but there is no light. I stand there, blinking until my eyes begin to adjust to the dark. I put my arms out in front of me and walk slowly forwards. After what seems like a long time I reach the end of corridor. I put my hand out and touch what feels like a door handle. But there is no door there. I’ve been down this corridor enough times to know that where I am standing now there is nothing but a blank wall. I turn the handle slowly and push the door open. I take a step forward. There is a rush of cold air and the door shuts behind me. I can’t see anything, but I can hear footsteps. The footsteps go up and down, up down, like someone pacing. I stay very still. Waiting.