Feeble light threw shadows into the corners of her room. She must have fallen asleep without turning off the bedside lamp. She lay on her back, her arms at her side, the bedclothes drawn up over her chest.
She couldn’t move.
She could see everything in the room, everything as it should be—the chest of drawers, the bedside cabinet, the book and the alarm clock. All were normal.
But she couldn’t move.
She tried to call out for help, but only hoarse breath emerged from between her numbed lips. Conscious but inexplicably paralysed, she lay there, shivering from the fright that spiked her skin.
Seconds masqueraded as minutes as she strove to control her limbs, whilst a cold, hollow fear bloomed in her chest. Then basic instinct alerted her to a terrible certainty: she was not alone.
A presence was in the room with her; something that had rendered her immobile and had stolen her voice. Something which meant her harm.
She couldn’t see or hear anything, yet revulsion crawled through her as fear crystallised into terror.
Then it started. She felt chill hands at the nape of her neck, invisible fingers sliding around her collar to encircle her throat. She could barely swallow; barely breathe.
She couldn’t move.
The hands slithered up under her chin and began to squeeze. Insidious fingers gripped tightly, strangling, choking, trapping in dead air and suffocating her.
Something heinous and unseen was trying to kill her.
Frigid with fear, her chest constricted, and she snatched breaths in shallow, panicked sips. When the incremental tightening paused, she maintained consciousness, but the malignant hands remained tightly clamped around her throat, keeping both the pressure and her terror at peak levels. Blood pumped loudly in her ears as her heart punched toxic hysteria through her veins. In silent desperation, she pleaded with anything that might hear her: don’t let the hands squeeze any tighter.
Then came the pressure on her chest. Something heavy, something solid but unseen, pushed down and squashed her shoulder blades further into the mattress. Like concrete blocks stacked on top of her, the heaviness made it even harder to inhale. Trapped and helpless, her fear-widened eyes dashed frantically from side to side.
But there was no help for her. No escape.
She was going to die.
Utter panic roiled within her, and dread leaked from her pores in a cold sweat. Who was this? What was this? Why was this happening to her?
How can I make it stop?
Mercifully, then came blackness.
She gasped as she woke in her dark room, her heart pounding, her limbs trembling and her body wet with sweat. She was lying in exactly the same position as moments ago, but this time, she was in darkness.
Breathe. Breathe again. Breathe. Slowly. Breathe. Exhale.
She swallowed down the bile at the back of her throat and coughed to clear her windpipe, then coughed again to free her tightened lungs. She was all right; it had stopped, and she was safe. It was only a dream.
The bedside lamp had been on then, but it wasn’t on now. This was reality; the darkness was real, not the light. She was safe, lying in the dark.
Her muscles ached from the rigidity of her limbs, so she forced them to relax, moving her toes, flexing her feet and unlocking her knees. Gradually, she got her body back under control. Her breathing deepened and her heart rate slowed, until the panic receded and the sickness ebbed.
She turned onto her side and buried herself beneath the bedclothes, tugging a spare pillow over her head. Inhaling the darkness of the room, she was further soothed by the cool air that reached her nostrils through a small gap between the pillow and the bedspread.
She closed her eyes, screwing them tightly shut, and then prayed as hard as she could that sleep would not drag her back there again.