He went from deep sleep to full awake in a single gasp.
There had been a sound, almost like a cry or a moan, but in those first seconds of consciousness he wasn’t sure if it was real or part of the dream he had been in. Not that it had been so much a dream as a memory. An amended memory of that dreadful long night so many years ago.
His panting was slowing and as his breathing recovered so he was able to look around the room - his new room - and work out where he was. Ah yes. The door was over…there and the window was on his left not on his right as it had been for three years. A lifetime of travel meant that waking - calm waking - was usually accompanied by a few seconds of orientation.
His back was soaked with the sweat of the nightmare and the t-shirt he had worn to bed was stuck to his back. He sat further up in the bed and pulled it over his head, and then threw it towards the door.
Just a nightmare.
That one long day followed him, waiting for a crack to jump through. One day that wanted to define his life. Since then a regime of therapy and counselling meant that he knew he wasn’t defined by that madness, just as he wasn’t coloured by the blood he had been soaked in. In calmer moments amongst the bad dreams, he sometimes wondered if DNA could seep into someone else’s body. Since that terror ended, he had felt like another person. Although it didn’t define him as a person, that day marked the end of childhood - and so, he had agreed with his various helpers, it did define a transition. What he had had was, he had learnt to say and to believe, a perfectly normal reaction to an extra-ordinary circumstance.
It was that memory that had filled his last dream. The cellar, the blood, the bodies, the limbs and - finally - the torch. That beam searching him out and then silhouetting him against the damp brick wall. Even as a 14 year old, he knew he couldn’t hide, but had folded himself up against the dark red bricks as if he could hide in the cracks and be missed.
Of course he hadn’t. But it was as the light had hit his face - just at the point of the laugh that was always there - that he had slammed awake.
It was never going to go away.
He sat in bed listening to the silence. The house had been selected specifically because it was so quiet. He wanted that solitary peace but was now wondering if that was sensible, given the memories that had chosen to fill it. But there were things that he needed to do - normal ordinary things - that needed quiet. And so here he was.
It really was very quiet here. The depth of the winter night meant that there were no animal or bird sounds - nothing to intrude.
Until he heard it again. A single, low, muffled moan. That same sound. The sound from the cellar all those years ago. His heart-beat crashed back to maximum and he could taste the adrenalin coursing through his system. He knew it couldn’t be the same. He knew that - but his mind was shouting that it was the same man, the same terrifying shambling man from that day.
He had pulled his knees up to his chest and was now sitting with his back hard against the back of the bed. Trying once again to hide in a wall.
He knew how to talk himself out of this state and started now. ‘It’s an old house. Old houses make sounds. It was a warm day even for winter and the house would have heated up. This is is cooling and settling. Cooling not calling’. But there is a point at which your subconscious knows when it is being condescended to. Terror is not logical.
It was ten minutes - at least - before he could make himself move from the bed. Ten long minutes in which he thought he heard a sound twice. Each one causing a pulse to run through his body. Each one accompanied by a small moan of his own. But move he did, because he knew that he needed to. He would not spend another long night too terrified to leave his own bed, only be to be mocked by the rising sun as it scattered the darkness to a foolish nothing.
He stood at the door. He knew the door was there because he had felt it as he groped slowly, hands outstretched before him, across the room. Now that he had stood there long enough, he felt he could see enough of the door. And still didn’t open it.
That sound again - and again his heartbeat quickened and he remembered, for a second split between then and now, another darkness and another terror.
He knew his hand was shaking as he put it out to the door handle. The metal was cold on his hand, but the cold was good. Real. He breathed in and turned the handle, pulling the door towards him, opening onto a greater darkness.
Darkness was always full of that terror. He had no real memories of before - everything was blocked at that moment of waking. Many therapies had been tried, but before then he had nothing at all. A first memory of brick, and darkness, and cold and that smell. That very particular smell that blood has when it has soaked so completely into a concrete floor. The smell was new to him then of course, but already somehow the coppery taste of it was frightening. Dangerous. His first touch out into the darkness was rewarded with a sticky liquid, and bringing the hand back to his nose increased the smell. Whatever it was, he knew at that first conscious moment, only that it was liquid.
Moaning. His memory of that awakening was next of that single moment of panic when he had first heard it. A low, painful, muffled moan. A sound that pushed him back against the wall, searching for the place he had left. That lack of consciousness that would be safe. But, of course, that didn’t happen. He clung to his new state in spite of himself and his panicked call.
He shook the memory away. He was standing on the landing, outside his bedroom door. There was a light switch somewhere but just as he was reaching for it a new thought emerged. What if there was someone there. What if he gave himself away with the light. What..?
‘I will turn around and go back to bed. This is not right. Not right’. And yet his next step was away from the bedroom, away from the light switch and towards the stairs. The thumping of his heart and the tide of blood through his ears masked - to him at least - the creak of the stairs and he slowly walked down. He stood for long minutes at the bottom of the stairs. Listening.
No light came through the windows - they were just darker patches on the blackness. Listen.
There. There was a sound. From over there. To his left and through…
Of course. It had to be the cellar.
His voice was the voice of a child. Of the child he had been in that blood soaked cellar. When they found him, he had been unable to speak for days, so hoarse was he from screaming and crying. A lifetime of tears, and a lifetime of fear. That had been his hope. That he had used up a life time of being scared in that place. With the bodies and the blood. And yet, of course, he had more. The first nightmare had been only hours away. Scant hours between the reality of horror and the replay. Over and over.
Again. A low moaning.
He looked around him, hoping for something. Anything. But just more darkness.
He moved to the door to the cellar and with the bravery of the fool, opened the door. Slowly, he reached in and felt for the light switch - a cord dangling by the left side of the door. Pulled.
Nothing. Just a single useless click.
No matter what, he wasn’t going down there in the dark, and so he turned away and searched out his torch, still on the table in the kitchen from earlier.
This time he was on the other side of the beam of light. He remembered the pain of it, appearing so suddenly. Pouring down on him from the top corner of the space. Searching him out by sweeping along the wall. As it travelled, horror was revealed. Blood in great pools and splashes. People, so obviously dead even in those seconds of weak yellow light. So much. Coming for him.
He knew he was mad to, but couldn’t stop himself looking for blood on the walls as he played the torch over the first wall of the cellar. Only half way down the wooden stairs, he felt the relief of nothing. Just brick. It was a different cellar.
Until the moan. Louder and over…there.
His torch lit a man. Stretched on a metal table and held down with what looked like belts. Five or more leather belts securing him to the table. The man’s eyes wide and searching, begging. His mouth stopped with what had been a white cloth.
Of course. In the confusion of his dream he had forgotten that he had someone down here. With that memory, the terror lifted completely from him, so much that he gave a small grunt of laughter. Mocking his confused fright.
“Do be quiet, please. I’m trying to sleep.”
Another frightened moan. Or was it a whimper?
“If you’re going to be noisy, I shall start now. Your choice.”
A moment of silence. One man standing at the bottom of the wooden stairs, torch in hand and - now - a calm smile on his face. Another, panicked, pained and desperate for an idea or a plan that will, he knows, never come.
“Until the morning then”, and both returned to darkness.