I've never been afraid of the dark.
I've never been afraid of the dark. Even as a child, I never asked for a nightlight, never forced my parents to check for monsters under the bed. It wasn't that I didn't believe in such things. I just wasn't scared of them. Perhaps I should have been.
I don't even know how to begin to tell my story. It just doesn't make any sense.
I keep trying to get the events of the last few- What? Hours, months?- straight in my head, but I can't. I've lost track of time. I've lost track of everything.
But I have to try. Maybe if I can understand it, I can start to figure out how to fix it.
So. It started...whenever it started.
The sharp beeping of my phone alarm woke me up so suddenly that I nearly fell out of bed.
As it was, I knocked the phone onto the floor, where it continued its mechanised dawn chorus.
Groaning, I swung one arm over the edge of the bed and crawled my hand, spider-style, around the area, trying to find the phone so I could press 'snooze.'
When I couldn't locate it, I opened my eyes, resigned to the fact that I would have to get up after all. It actually took me a few seconds to realise that something was wrong.
Something was very wrong.
Everything was black. I couldn't see my bed. Or my hand. Or anything at all.
Worse still, I couldn't see the phone to stop that damned beeping.
I rubbed my eyes. No difference. I felt for the lamp on the bedside table, and flicked the switch. Nothing.
Now I was starting to worry. Had I somehow gone blind overnight?
My instinct was to call out for my husband, but we divorced years ago.
I live alone, in a great little place in the countryside. I bought it after we separated, a fresh start, away from all the memories.
It's a snug little cottage, complete with heavy dark-wood beams and leaded windows, set far back from the road and a good 15-minute walk from any neighbours.
The isolation was a big part of it's appeal, actually- I'm a loner by nature, and besides, it's perfect for my job.
I'm a horror writer by trade. I started off selling short stories to magazines, and after a few years of rejections I finally got my lucky break. My first novel, Lurker, was an instant success, and I've been churning out best sellers ever since.
I work best in absolute silence, and I prefer to type my copy on an actual, vintage typewriter; so I refused the offer of a landline and wireless broadband in favour of a little Nokia, set to Silent for everything except THAT BLOODY ALARM!
So: I was alone, apparently blind, and my one chance of getting help was somewhere amongst the dust-bunnies beneath the bed.
I realised the absurdity of the situation and almost laughed aloud.
With no other option, I took a deep breath and got out of bed.
On my hands and knees, I scrambled underneath it, bumping my head on the frame in the process. No matter how much I crawled around, I couldn't find my phone. I tried to follow the sound of the alarm, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.
After a while I gave up and slithered back out from under the bed. I figured I'd have to very carefully get myself downstairs and out onto the side of the road. Maybe I could wave something at passing traffic and try to flag down some help. I felt around for something I could use, my fingers eventually alighting on a scarf I'd left draped on the back of a chair.
The noise of the alarm was driving me crazy. Thank god I'd be away from it soon.
I braced myself in case I walked into something, stretching my arms out on front of myself to feel for the bedroom door. I took a few tentative steps forward. Then a few more.
I frowned. You always think you'd know your home really well if you lost your sight, but it isn't the case. I would have guesstimated the door to be maybe 6 or 7 steps from the bed, but I'd taken more than that and still not reached it.
I kept going, walking more quickly now. No door. No wall. I was completely disorientated.
I didn't know what to do. It isn't that big a room, just a standard double, but suddenly I felt like I was trekking across a great expanse of desert. It was almost as if the room was growing.
I stopped for a moment. Don't be ridiculous, I scolded myself, a writer's imagination is one thing, but scaring yourself silly over nothing isn't at all productive right now!
The Nokia was still chirruping away shrilly somewhere nearby. I tried again, counting 65 steps and still not arriving at the bedroom door. Feeling completely disorientated, I decided to retrace my steps. After only 3, I stubbed my toe on the bed frame.
Cursing, my little toe throbbing, I sat back down on the bed. What the hell was going on? This was impossible, there was no way that the room could be altering around me like that.
I needed to think logically, but my brain was being assaulted by the incessant jangling of the phone alarm.
I felt tears of frustration welling in my unseeing eyes, and lay back down on the bed, exhausted.
I pulled my pillow around my ears, trying to block out the sound.
I was trapped. I was a stupid, stubborn woman who'd insisted on living alone in the middle of nowhere, and now I was blind and trapped in this stupid cottage with no one to even notice I was gone.
Self-pity threatened to overwhelm me, but I pulled myself together with one thought.
Abi. My publisher. She'd be expecting the next chapter of my latest novel, would try to call me if it didn't arrive. And if I didn't pick up, surely she'd be concerned?
Yes. Yes, of course she would.
Or the paperboy. A few days worth of papers piling up on the doorstep should be enough to alert him that something was wrong, and he'd call the police. Of course he would. Teenagers are a lot less oblivious than people think.
I think I must have fallen back asleep, because I was jolted into consciousness by what felt like a lorry driving by the house...you know how sometimes when a really large truck goes by, it makes the house vibrate a little? It felt like that, only a little stronger.
I tried to open my eyes, hoping that my sight would have returned as suddenly and mysteriously as it had disappeared; but the lids resisted my efforts with ease and I remained trapped in the darkness.
I went to get out of bed, and couldn't.
Willing myself not to panic, I systematically attempted to move: head, legs, arms. No.
Fingers, toes? No.
Not even so much as a twitch of my nose.
My awareness of my body had never been so acute. That slight pressure on my back was due to the springs of my cheap mattress pressing into my spine; I could feel the weight of the winter duvet resting on my chest. Had I tucked myself in before falling asleep?
My chest was rising and falling smoothly. Breathing. That's good, right? My breath was steady and even, showing no sign of how worried I felt at that moment.
A strand of my hair tickled against my right cheek.
I could still hear the Nokia, but suddenly that noise seemed very unimportant in comparison with a new sound that began emanating from the foot of my bed. A sort of...slithering.
I tried again to move but couldn't.
The mattress creaked as something heavy settled at the foot of it. A sudden draft tickled my right foot- something had lifted the duvet!
The weight on the mattress moved around as the slithering grew louder, moving up beneath the covers, up towards me!
A scream built at the back of my throat but my mouth refused to obey the command to open, so it stayed there, useless.
Whatever the thing under the covers was, it had skin like ice as it momentarily came into contact with my calf. I flinched inwardly, but the reflex failed to travel to my leg. I willed myself to jump up, to get away, but my body just lay there, completely unresponsive.
My mind was buzzing, a million fears and speculations zooming around inside my skull, while My body just laid there like a piece of meat in a butcher's window.
The noise and movement ceased, and the me inside my head let out a sigh of relief.
Slowly, I started to regain movement...my little finger on my left hand twitched, and I was able to turn my head and open my eyes. It was still pitch black, but at least I was moving.
I must have been imagining things. It was being blind that was the problem, it was messing with my other senses, making me paranoid.
My upper body recovered first, and I brushed away the tickly strand of hair from my cheek.
After what seemed like an age, I was able to move my legs...and felt my bladder release as something cold and heavy clamped around my upper thigh with a loud hisssssss.
head felt foggy. I tried to lift it from the pillow, but it was an effort. I slit open my eyes, and let put a frustrated sob when I realised that I was still blind.
Blind and trapped with no chance of...
A voice from downstairs.
More voices, conferring about something. A search party?
Whoever it was, they were coming up the stairs. Multiple sets of footsteps reverberated on the un carpeted wood.
I sat up eagerly, and was rewarded with a dizzy spell the likes of which I never want to repeat. "Help!" I shouted, amazed at how weak my own voice sounded, "I'm in here! I can't see!"
The footsteps quickened and then stopped outside the bedroom door.
"Jeff!" My ex-husband to the rescue, who'd have thought it? "Jeff, you'll have to come and get me, I...I can't find the door."
"Can't find the door?" his tone was vaguely scornful, and is immediately felt embarrassed.
"Yes." I said, "I'm blind, Jeff, I think maybe I'm sick or something, I woke up like this and I can't see to find the door."
"She always was useless." A woman's voice, so familiar..."Just like her father. Useless and whining and pathetic."
"Ugh. God, honestly, even her voice, listen to it, soooo bloody irritating! Can you imagine how much I hated putting up with that for nearly twenty five years?"
"Please. I was married to her for three years, you think I don't know?"
I was shaking. I lay back down and pushed my hands over my ears.
My mother died just over a year ago. I was there when they buried her.
It was one of the happiest days of my life.
"Oh, was it now, missy?" I jump, terrified by the voice right beside my head. I hadn't heard the door open. "You're not here!" I shouted.
A rough hand grabbed me around my jaw. Jeff. "Oh, I think you'll find she is, babe."
I try to convince myself that I'm dreaming, but I can smell my mother's perfume; a heavy, musky scent that I always hated, and Jeff's hand is like a clamp on my jaw. I am sure there will be a bruise.
"Well," he says, conversationally, "here we are, then."
"What do you want?" I say. "To rescue you, of course!" he replies. "Ok, then. Take me downstairs and call an ambulance." My mother laughs. "We're not here to rescue you from this room, idiot. Honestly, for someone who's supposed to be so intelligent, you really are stupid sometimes. We're here to rescue you from yourself."
"What are you talking about? How are you even here? What's happening?!"
"You messed up, missy." She's leaning in close, and I can smell something else beneath her perfume; something rotten. I try to tell myself that it's impossible, that neither of them are really there, but my remaining senses are all too convinced.
"Look at you. You could have had a nice husband, children, a normal life; and instead you've chosen to be here, writing your crappy little stories, getting your sick thrills from scaring teenagers and perverts. I always knew you'd never amount to much, but I thought even a pathetic, whining heap like you could manage to keep a man!"
Jeff snorts. "What kind of man would stay with her? That's some useless bitch you raised there, Maria! Every day was like torture." He let go of my jaw. "I couldn't bear to touch her, let alone make babies with her! Did you really think I'd settle for her long term? Do you know she doesn't even like going out? She prefers to stay at home and write, for god's sake! What kind of existence is that? If you'd raised her to live in the real world instead of letting her indulging in make-believe, maybe she'd have made a better wife, but she barely noticed I existed! Did you, babe?"
"That's not true," I whispered. "I loved you. We were happy together before..."
"Before I started screwing around?" Jeff crowed, "Yeah, that's right, blame me! Why do you think I started seeing other women in the first place?"
"I should've known it was because she was no good in bed," Mother said, "Frigid, I suppose?
I can't say I'm surprised, there was always something weird about her, right from being a baby. That's why I wanted to get rid of her, I wanted to drown her while she was still in nappies.
But her weakling of a father wouldn't let me, and by the time he passed away, it was too late."
I felt nauseated.
A distant memory surfaced, of me in my father's arms, coughing up green water. He'd told me that I'd fallen in our pond, trying to catch the coy carp. He'd teased me about it for years afterwards, used to say that the biggest carp had been chewing on my arm when he pulled me out.
Had she...had she really tried to drown me? How had I forgotten that?
I remembered the beatings, sure: my hand held against the radiator until it blistered, the wooden spoon that eventually broke with the force of the beatings. But actually trying to kill me? It made me feel even more glad that she was gone. Except that she wasn't. She was right beside me, impossible though it was. Right beside me, and I was blind and had no one to turn to for help.
"You poor thing," Jeff was saying, as I shook my head in confusion, "Being lumbered with a bad husband and an emotionally disturbed daughter. No wonder you hit her." He lowered his tone conspiratorially, "I wanted to, too."
"Go ahead," said my mother, "You can take the first shot. I've been dying to punch her ugly, whining face ever since we got here, but I can wait."
"Aww, thanks, Maria!" Jeff says, "I always thought you were the world's best mother-in-law, if this silly cow had inherited more of your genes and less of her dad's, we might have lasted more than a couple of years."
I opened my mouth to speak, but the blow was fast, and knocked two of my teeth loose.
I think I may have swallowed one of them. My head ricocheted to one side. Mother whooped and cheered like some demented teen at a football match.
The next was my nose, I felt the bone crack and splinter even as I raised my hands to defend myself. Unable to see where the next fist would come from, I was helpless to defend myself as they set about beating me.
The last thing I remember was Jeff's hand around my throat, and a buzzing sensation behind my eyes.
It's dark, and something's wrong with my throat. Maybe I'm getting a cold?
There's a scratchy sensation near my tonsils, and a nasty taste, kind of like bad meat. I cough, and the sensation gets worse, it's quite painful.
I touch my throat gently with my fingers to see if my glands are swollen. They are, they're swollen to twice their normal size, and...oh, hell, they're...moving.
I cough again, this one a whole-body rattle that forces me to sit upright and hang over the side of the bed. I'm coughing so hard that I'm gagging; afraid I'll be sick, and after a fair few tries, I know there's no chance of my getting out of the room and making it to the bathroom.
I'm struggling to breathe between violent coughing fits now, and I can feel the skin of my neck pulsating as whatever is inside moves around with more and more vigour.
Panicked, I do the only thing I can think of, and reach into my mouth, as far down my throat as I can, to remove any obstruction.
The next thing I know, I am holding something about the size of a boiled sweet in between my index finger and thumb. It's writhing, and seems to have quite a lot of legs. Once it's out of my mouth, the floodgates are opened.
Within half a second, hundreds of these mysterious- things - are flowing out of my mouth and down over my chest. I can feel other scurrying legs all over me, and I'm coughing, and batting frantically at my clothes and hair to try and get them off.
I'm itching all over, like when I was a kid and someone at school would mention headlice. I can't tell which itches are my imagination and which are down to genuine infestation.
Finally, the stream of creatures stops, and I can breathe. I lie back on the bed, and feel something crawling up my neck, and onto my cheek. I bat at it, but it keeps crawling, it's spindly legs all over my skin, heading for my mouth.
I clamp it shut, and pinch my nose closed for good measure. But that doesn't help me, because a few seconds later, they're both open again.
Because I'm screaming in agony. Because the creature is forcing it's way into my ear canal.
My eyes open to darkness. Of course they do.
I lie still, waiting.
Nothing happens. I carry on waiting, just in case. I don't trust the dark not to deliver me with some new form of torture.
After what I deem to be a sufficient amount of time, I brave getting out of the bed and feeling my way around the walls to find the door.
Brick. Brick. More brick, this one is strangely slimy and smells faintly of mould. I grimace and wipe my hands on my clothes. No door.
I go back to bed.
That bloody Nokia is still making a racket, somewhere down on the floor. I find myself singing along, laughing, even though inside I'm screaming at it to be quiet.
Over and over, the same few tinny notes. The battery should have run down long ago, but I suspect now that it never will.
I close my eyes and pray for help, for an answer, for anything.
I open them again and all I see is black.
Somewhere nearby I hear a deep-throated chuckle, and a sound like metal being scraped on metal. I thrash about wildly, even knowing that it won't do any good. Without my sight, I won't see the attack coming.
The first cut slashes deep into my forearm and burns like the fires of hell. I scream, and my unseen attacker laughs all the louder.
His laughter, my screams, the beeping of the Nokia- what a discordant orchestra we make.
As the knife plunges into my side, and I cough up blood that tastes like old pennies, one thought fills my mind: I was never afraid of the dark, even as a child.
But god knows I am now.