Are you comfortably numb?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Short Story

I was asleep. It was the kind of sleep that makes insomniacs more jealous than anything else. Cosy, warm and dream-free. Sleep that leaves a contented smile on your face when you eventually wake from it, still cocooned in your hazy surroundings. It was not only unbroken, blissful sleep, I knew when I woke up that there was no need to shatter that momentary paradise with unnecessary stirring; I could lie there for as long as I wanted. There was no job to go to, no deadline to meet, no train to catch. I could bathe in that pool of relaxation for hours more. I sighed happily to myself as the prospect unfolded before me, and closed my eyes again to let dozy slumber seep over me again…

Then it comes. My peace is shattered. I hear screams and shouting, panicked voices. It feels like an earthquake is shaking everything, jolting and shuddering my surroundings. Is some kind of monster outside, trying to get in? I open my mouth to let a silent scream emerge, my face locked in an expression of pure horror. I try and get out but realise there is no escape: I am trapped. And all the time the tumult is worsening. The screams grow louder; outside someone is hurting, really hurting, and there is nothing I can do to reach them. I try shouting to them but my voice has become muffled, as if my vocal chords have been paralysed. I scream and scream but no one can hear me. There is what seems like a vacuum around me. There is no way out.

I open my eyes and realise it has stopped. My heart thundering in my ears, I try and measure my breathing carefully, willing my quickened pulse to slow. What was it? Whatever the answer to that question is, I know that I’m more scared of it than anything else. I don’t want it to come back but I know there is nothing I can do to stop it if it wants to. I look around me, searching for something to protect myself. There is nothing.

It feels like hours later, but it must be just a few minutes, when it begins again. This time it feels like I am being squeezed to death; the walls seem to be pulsating, crushing me and then relenting, before turning against me again. Am I hallucinating? This time the screams don’t start up at first, but then they come, now more harrowing than before. Who is that? I want to get to them, to help, or if helping is not possible, at least to share our common terror. What has happened to my blissful, uninterrupted sleep? It has been invaded, poisoned by this uninvited enemy. I try to run, but it is as if I have been paralysed; my limbs feel as if they are trapped inside some invisible cage, tied down by intangible ropes. The monster groans again, sending a hellish chill through my veins. I am certain that death lies outside these walls which for so long have been my protection.

The nightmare continues as what feels like a landslide erupts under my feet and I am sucked downwards, headfirst, for what seems like miles. Then again, the silence. But now the silence is not filled with relief. It throbs with dread, beating a drum of certain doom through me. Then, more voices. A different voice this time, slightly calmer. Perhaps there is a ray of hope after all. Then all fantasies of redemption are obliterated as to my horror, a cruel metal implement is forced through the wall where my head rests. I stare at it. I cannot breathe. I retch silently. I can feel the blood screaming through my arteries. Then the huge metal thing moves towards me, working its way tentatively but determinedly into what moments before had been a safe haven of rest.

It gets to my head just as the walls start pulsating again. Pain floods my eyes and snakes to the back of my brain. I can hear the screaming again and this time it has a note of mad desperation in it. My head feels like it is going to explode. Then I hear panting nearby, someone gasping for air, trying with every atom in their body to feed their lungs. They sound so close. If only I could get to them!

This time it doesn’t stop. There is no brief moment of silence, of rest before the monster resumes his relentless torture. I feel myself being sucked downwards once more, hear the sound of wailing and sobbing louder than ever, and feel my whole body convulsing under the power of the metal weapon on my head. I scream in utter dread as I am dragged, kicking and screaming, down a dark tunnel which squeezes every breath out of my being.

In the delivery suite, a new mother sobbed tears of relief as the doctor smiled and the baby emerged, crying healthily at the top of its lungs.

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