Lock That Scream Inside
Something caressed her cheek.
A cursory turn of the head. Her right shoulder gently coming to rest on the mattress as she rolled onto her back, one foot drawing up and allowing a chill to seep in from a cooler part of the bed sheet.
In the same way that a diver will eventually rise to the surface, so Vanessa rose through levels of consciousness to sleepy-eyed wakefulness. The flat’s bedroom lay in darkness, Vanessa’s view of it slowly resolving itself as she lifted the shade of her eyelids and lashes. Against the gloom beyond the curtains from the city outside, the room’s contours sat in dim relief: from the rumpled bed linen, to the side of the wardrobe curtailing the view of the room with a high edge of darkened wood, toiletries atop the dresser at the foot of the bed. Apart from the distant passing of a car now and then, the streets outside sounded quiet enough.
Oh, my days.
With minimal movement, she brought her shoulder blades closer together and the surrounding muscle answered with the warm ache of the evening’s swim up at White City. Thirty lengths would do it. Still, at least she shaved a good five minutes off –
Something came to rest on her cheek: cool and pliant, fingertips on her cheekbone, the side of a thumb at the edge of her lips.
Wide awake, and wide-eyed, Vanessa stiffened with a gasp, the bed sheets whispering briefly as she did so. Still, the hand remained there and, most frightening of all, Vanessa saw enough to recognise one important and terrifying fact: no one else could be seen in the room. Not at the side of the bed, not next to the wardrobe, not beside the dresser, not by the door – and if someone had already left the room, wouldn’t she have heard it? The door was locked, the door was locked, the door was locked! The room sat exactly as she left it when she fell asleep.
Her heart thudded in her chest, blood pounding in her ears. For all the silence in the room, her pulse was terrifyingly loud.
Oh, God, oh, God…
The hand slid down her cheek, cradling her chin between thumb and forefinger before disappearing altogether.
And it was in the aftermath of that encounter, the contact defying rational explanation, that the ramifications began to crowd in on Vanessa. Confined within those walls, the room felt oppressive, the quiet bordering on something sinister. Every surface out of sight a niche for some unseen force to lay in wait, playing a game of cat and mouse with inhuman patience and malevolence.
Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God, oh, God…
The breath she had been holding shuddered out of her. It had been enough effort to just lie there and …take it. Take it? It? IT? For fuck's sake, what ‘it’? There was nothing there, I couldn’t see anything, so what the fuck was there?!
Vanessa’s mind balked at the idea, but the reality coupled with the evidence of her senses presented irrefutable proof. Something, something had stroked her face and woken her up, and by that reason that something was watching her while she slept.
Whatever goose bumps had risen on her skin previously now gave rise to a new sensation; crawling skin. What she wouldn’t do now was scream: no, no, no. She would lie there, quiet, all quiet and lock that scream inside, and for fuck’s sake, she wanted to scream, but if she did?
She wouldn’t stop.
One scream would give rise to another and another, and another, which would no doubt reveal actually where she was and whatever monstrosity had stalked her in the dead of night would have free reign to return and harass her.
Return? There was no breaking of glass, no opening or closing of the door, and certainly no other way in and out of the room, so whatever it was that had molested was still in the room with her.
The thought weighed on her like the mass of a dead body.
Vanessa swallowed, and even that small movement sounded too loud in the silence.
She would remain awake. She’d remain watchful, she wouldn’t take her eyes off the room, damned near daring whatever it was (please don’t) to make a move, any move (but please, don’t move).
So as the dark night began to pale, and dawn crept over the horizon, the weight of sleep, uninterrupted sleep, and fear pressed her down into unconsciousness. In trying to process the enormity of the night’s horror, her mind retreated into itself, rewarding her with a dreamless sleep.
Uninterrupted by calls from the office wondering as to her whereabouts.
Calls from the girls as to whether they were still on for Friday.
A call from Gideon to see if she was free for the weekend.
Outside her flat, life bustled by without her and the passage of the day brought the school run, rush hour and the setting of the sun as quiet began to settle over the neighbourhood – precisely what Vanessa wanted to avoid.
Desolation and the return of quiet.
And again, she woke by degrees, to be greeted by the dim glow of amber beyond the curtains. With no comfort that night was coming.