The room is so dark when I open my eyes that, for a moment, I am uncertain if I am awake or not. I look to my left and the luminous hands of the clock tell me it is three thirty AM.
I lie here, staring at the ceiling that is now emerging from the gloom, trying to forget the dream—the nightmare—that had chased me back into the real world. My tired mind is unable to function normally, but thankfully my eyes begin to close again. The room slips from ashen grey to the dark black of the inside of my eyelids.
My head seems to be sinking deeper into the pillow.
The muscles in my body relax.
My eyes spring open, much wider this time.
It’s only a bad dream, I tell myself. Pull yourself together. You’re a grown man. But no matter how much I repeat it I can’t convince myself.
I have never felt so alone. I look to my right and contemplate waking her. But I can’t. Even though she would want me to, I can’t. And if I was to stir the breathing pile of bedclothes beside me, I would not be able to explain what it was that had scared me so much.
Even with my eyes open I can see the images of the nightmare; still intense, they follow me whichever way I turn. I can’t escape them. My mind is keeping them alive and they won’t leave. I try to think of other things, but they invade whatever I think about—polluting my thoughts.
My eyes search the darkness for reassurance that I am still in the real world. Faint silhouettes border the edges of the room and I watch in horror as each, in turn, transforms. The wardrobe door silently swings open and a pair of red eyes stare out at me; the cushions on the floor sprout long hairy legs and the zipped edges slowly open to show rows of small pointy teeth; the coat on the back of the door starts to move. Furry hands with long claws shoot from the arms and reach for me as hair starts to emerge from the neckline. Dull yellow eyes appear and squint at me from over the collar of the coat, then a hole where the nose should be, followed by a mouth so big that, when opened, the creatures head seems to divide in two.
I snatch my feet back from the edge of the bed before something’s icy fingers grab them and I cover myself up to the neck with the duvet and try to ignore the fact that I am already hot. The fan at the bottom of the bed circulates the warm air around the room and blows it on my face. The low whirring noise gives a little respite from the deathly silence of my cell.
I try again to take my mind of what is happening; twisting and turning, back and forth, but my mind keeps coming back to the nightmare and the monsters lying in the shadows. What do I do to calm my nerves and help me escape to the safety of sleep?
Do I close my eyes and hope they go away?
Do I turn my back on them and hope my mind doesn’t torture me with images of them crawling—slithering—up behind me?
Or do I face them with my eyes open and make sure they don’t sneak up on me?
Whatever I decide will be wrong.
The room’s only light hangs from the ceiling, mocking me. The paper lantern lampshade swinging gently in the fan’s warm breath. How I’d love to switch it on and flood the room with 100 watts of reality. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not going to happen. The thought of pulling the covers off me, exposing myself to the terrors of the night, and putting my feet on the floor within grabbing distance of whatever lay under the bed puts a lump in my throat that I haven’t had for a long time.
And that was the easy part. I would have to cross the room after that; if I managed to get past the spider-like creatures without being dragged to the floor and ripped to pieces with those razor teeth, and if the owner of those red eyes didn’t grab me and pull me into the wardrobe before closing the doors and devouring me, I would still have to battle the monster in my coat on the back of the door before being able to reach the light switch.
The longer I let this nightmare take hold of me, the more I feel my bladder slowly waking. The sudden urge to pee is very strong, but going to the toilet involves the same horrors as getting to the light switch and then who knows what’s on the other side of that door.
My body is fully awake now. Every muscle is tense. I look to the right and a pang of jealousy hits me. Why can you sleep and not me? Why is this happening to me? I pull the covers up tight around my neck and take another look at the clock.
Four thirty AM.
Two hours until sunrise.
© Matthew Webb