*shaking quivering terror*
The first thing she was truly aware of was a cramp, low in her back. She wasn’t sure exactly when she became aware of it, how long she’d been listening to her body groan, but slowly, carefully, the awareness that this was real, her back was hurting, she was asleep, or had been, settled in her mind. It was dark, too dark; that wasn’t helping. Where was it, that it was this dark? Not her own bedroom for sure. Not her lumpy bed and rickety windowsill, traffic noises seeping through with the streetlights. The bed beneath her was straight, even with her weight on it. The dark around her, absolute. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on waking up. Her mouth was dry and filthy, caked with gunge. As she struggled to push her body awake, to sit up, make sense of the confusion, she flitted her tongue round and round, desperately seeking moisture. The pain from her back was sharp and fresh as she pulled forward, making her wince. What on earth had happened that her back hurt so? The question sat in her mind, trying to make some sense to her. She fumbled around, feeling the soft bed that surrounded her. How big could a bed be? She leaned to the side, reaching for an unseen edge, trying to find an end to this smothering softness. Her head spun, dizziness almost overwhelming her. A nausea rose within her, she gagged. She wasn’t going to throw up, she wasn’t going to throw up. She certainly wasn’t going to throw up until she had worked out where she was. She dropped back on the bed, closing her eyes. She’d moved too fast, the dizziness got worse not better. She groaned, which turned out to be a worse move than flopping back on the bed. Her throat felt awful, like she’d swallowed crushed glass. Hot and dry and raw all at the same time. As she lay there, trying to control her panic, her breathing, her dry mouth, her head began a wicked beating. Thrum, thrum, thrum. If this was a hangover, she didn’t want to think about what she’d been drinking. Her back had eased slightly on lying back, but when she tried to move upwards, it screamed protest once more. Fear started to edge out panic: what had she been doing that had hurt her back? Whatever the answer was, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know about it, not yet.
Gritting her teeth she forced herself to sit up, sitting straight up on the bed. The wave of nausea hit again, as did the dizziness. She rode it out, clutching a sheet to her face, concentrating on not throwing up, not passing out and not going back down into the bed. The thrumming threatened to split her head open, but she kept on in there. The feeling of sickness passed, as did the dizziness. Her back stayed raw and sharp, but got no worse. As the thrumming finally started to ease off, she became aware of a harsh rasping breath in the room beside her: laboured, dangerous. She almost screamed, clamping her hand over her own mouth, the noise stopped. Fear froze down her spine, blocking out all thoughts of her back, her pain, her headache. She clutched herself tightly, knees automatically raised to tuck under her chin. The rasping breath started again. She scrunched her eyes tight shut, tears squeezing out of the edges, and once more clamped her hand over her mouth, anything to make herself disappear. The noise stopped again. She held her breath, better to hear the darkness: nothing. The moment stretched and broke. She let the trapped air in her lungs out, the movement forcing more pain from her throat, her back, her head. The rasping started again. A whimper fled from her throat and was out into the darkness before she could help it. She again held her breath, this time her hands flying up to cover her head, her chin tucking down, seeking protection from her knees. The rasping stopped. As she lay there, tight and curled, awaiting whatever monster was in the room with her, she thought this through. An idea occurred to her. Lifting her head, she gasped in some air, once more releasing the bottled up feeling in her lungs. The rasping started once more. She held her breath. The rasping stopped. She breathed out. The rasping started up again. Relief flooded through her, limbs turning liquid; she crumpled once more back onto the bed. It was her! The noise she’d heard, that awful rasping breath, it was her own. The darkness, the silence in the room, it had fooled her.
She giggled, a strange and monstrous sound on its own, forced as it was through her aching throat, but she didn’t care. The fear that had frozen her bones melted, leaving them molten and warm in its wake. She was drained, shaking a little, almost shivering with the relief. A laugh escaped her lips, god, she was a goose. What a stupid cow, to get herself into such a fright from listening to her own breathing. She flung her hands back, pulling air deeply into her lungs, listening to the sound of it all around her. Her back once more announced itself and she stretched, trying to persuade the aching to retreat, she was okay, it was just cramp from sleeping wrong. Her back wasn’t convinced, but she kept it up, tightening and then flexing her spine, her legs, her arms. Her head hated it, the thrumming increasing, but she wasn’t going to let herself get back into the state she’d just left. As she stretched her right hand and arm out, moving her shoulder this way, then that, her hand connected with something solid. She leaned back, tracing the line her hand found: the headboard. Great, with a little bit of luck, she’d find out where she was. Following the line of the padded board, she inched around to the edge of the bed. It seemed to be miles away, but she got there. Left hand still touching the headboard, right hand on the edge of the mattress. She lifted her right hand and gingerly stretched it out, into nothingness, fingers splayed, seeking. There was a bump, and she nearly screamed again, but she’d found what she was looking for. Her arm had connected with something soft, yet solid, movable. A lamp shade. Shifting over a little, both hands examined the shade, which was your normal round sorta-pyramid shape. The noise of her moving the cover blotted out her breathing. She found the wooden stem it sat on, and her fingers explored, seeking. There, under the bulb, where it should be, there was the switch. It was stiff, and she had to really push to get it on, something she should have thought through a little more, for as light suddenly flooded the room, she screamed and once more fell back onto the bed. Her eyes, shit her eyes. She threw her arms over them, to protect them from the light, but it was too late. Brightness danced in front of her, stabbing the backs of her eyes, hurting more than the headache. She dug her hands into them, rubbing hard, as if she could rub both pain and after images away. Shit, why hadn’t she thought of that? She lay there, convinced she should feel the light through her skin, trying to get her breath back and her eyes back into their sockets. She turned over, ignoring the agony this caused her back and buried her face in a pillow. The stabbing lights slowly calmed down, although even with her eyelids closed tight, buried in the pillow, she could see ghostly images as she moved her head.
Anger began to chase out her panic. Anger at her own stupidity and whoever had gotten her here, to make such a fool of herself. She turned and sat up, once more ignoring both back and head, and shifted back till she was leaning on the head board, her hands protecting her eyes. She forced herself to calm down, to unwrinkle her eyes. Light was leaking through both her fingers, and her lids, turning everything red. The ghost of the lamp still danced in front of her. She held this pose for what seemed like forever, forcing her pupils to adjust, to get used to the partial light getting through to them. Gradually, she dropped her hands till only her lids protected her. She blinked, opening her eyes and closing them again, testing their responses. She turned her face away from the main source, away from the light, so she could look into the shadows on the left hand side of the bed. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was bearable. She forced them to open, to adjust. Blinking away tears, she turned her head slowly, making it come into contact with more of the lamp, so she could see where she was. The scream that bounced around the walls pierced her, made her jump, made her throat contract with the pain and fear of it. She didn’t recognise it as her own such was the shock.
Just by the lamp, there was a man sitting in a chair, looking straight at her.
He allowed himself a small smile then pulled his face back into emptiness. Would not do to give her too much to work with, would it?
The scream just kept echoing, on and on; she pulled back, scuttling as far away from him as she could. She stopped only when she knocked into the lamp on the other side of the bed, the crash as it flew back adding to her panic. Wedged in the corner, her body pushed as far as it could into the soft headboard on one side, the hard edge of a bedside table digging into her back. The scream just kept on going, filling the room, filling her. He stared at her, not moving, doing nothing but look. The voice stood between them, a solid, viscous barrier, carrying her shock and fear, but it couldn’t hold up. The already bruised and swollen muscles in her throat gave out, the screams became less powerful, more broken, more hoarse. When they shattered into a wretched moaning, she realised they were hers, that she had been the one screaming, and that it wasn’t achieving anything. She slowly wound down, a fractured organ running out of air. Silence crashed around them, her ears ringing with the force of it. Still, he did nothing but sit and look.
The initial shock was leaving, terror settling in its place. The silence between them became charged with it, alive with it. The pains all around her, her throat, her head, her back, became nothing in that awful stillness, as she watched him and he, her. His gaze upon her was terrible, frightening beyond words. She was caught between fear of not looking at him, in case he moved, and fear of being seen by him. In tiny, desperate movements, her eyes began to flit away from him, to and fro, attempting to build a picture, make sense of where she was. Behind him, in the shadows, there was the outline of a door. The bed she was on was massive, huge. He was easily six feet away from her, six feet of bed between them, then a few inches of space from the bed to the chair. The light from the lamp was actually quite low; there was no sense of colour in the room. There was only dark and light, although she was sure the sheets were white. She clutched them to her, they were soft, luxurious. The touch of them was comforting, reassuring. The reassurance fled as she thought on this, on the feel of it. For the first time her eyes dropped to look at herself, her own state. She was naked. She was totally naked and her right breast wasn’t covered by the sheet. With a yelp, she cowered down more, making herself smaller, pulling the sheet up to her chin. Her hair swung into her eyes, plastering itself to her face. She pushed her right hand up from under the sheet, pulling her hair back. It was soaking, soaked through. Her hair was sodden. She looked at the hand that had touched it, it was wet, but clear. Water, not blood. She had suddenly been afraid that she was covered in blood. It was sweat, she was covered in her own sweat. Around her, the sheet was staining where it touched skin. All at once she could smell it - the stench of her own body. Sweat and fear, that’s what she smelt of: sweat and fear.
Joanne Maitland hadn’t known that it was possible to smell of fear.
The thought almost broke her, almost made her close her eyes and slip under the white sheet, not caring what happened as long as she couldn’t see him, didn’t have to admit what was happening. It was all so wrong, so very wrong. It was a nightmare, and something was trying to tell her that if she just closed her eyes and slipped under the sheet, all would be well. All she had to do was close her eyes and go back to sleep, then she’d wake, and the nightmare would be over. She ignored the voice, the tiny whispering in the back of her mind. The whispering could shut the fuck up, for nothing, nothing was going to get her to close her eyes with that man looking at her.
He watched the tiny spark in her eye, the glowing heat. He was entranced, delighted. Anger, such a very quick show of anger. This was turning out to be a much better evening’s entertainment than he had hoped for. Anger at this stage boded very well, very well indeed.
Having decided she wasn’t going to close her eyes, wasn’t going to run away, she returned to checking out her surroundings. Her looks away from him gradually became more bold, sustained. A picture was starting to build. Over in the corner, by the door, ran some sort of unit. Dressing table perhaps, with a single shelf that ran the end of the room. Her vision ended where a second lot of drawers began. Carefully, she turned her head slightly, taking in the line as it grew to become a set of wardrobe doors. It was harder for her to sense their exact size and shape as she had to keep flitting her eyes back to check on Him. She couldn’t follow the line all the way through, the angle was wrong. She returned to looking at what she could see, her captor, for that was undoubtedly what he was. Still he sat, still he stared. As if he was made of wax. She dragged her eyes off him, it was terrifying to keep him in her gaze. She stared again at the doorway behind him. The door. He was between her and it. Her and the door. The little voice whispered again. No way, no friggin’ way. She wasn’t going to go any closer to him, not even an inch, never mind run right past him. Her eyes moved off the door, she didn’t even like to look at it, not while that traitorous thought was in her mind. She flicked back to Him: no change. She flicked away, once more examining the wall opposite the bed. On the wall, above the shelf of what might be a vanity unit, there was a drawing, a large one. She couldn’t see what it was, it was too dark, murky. But she could see something, could see the glass which protected it. How hadn’t she noticed it before? It reflected the room back at her. Dimly in places, but clear enough to her now adjusted eyes. In one corner, there was the lamp, his reflection. Then, a straggle of hair framed by a ghostly image of the headboard; herself. Next, in the nearest corner of the picture, showing part of the room she could not see, there was a dark rectangle. A tall dark rectangle that swallowed light utterly. Her eyes flicked between it, and Him. It and Him. The voice was back but this time she was listening. This time it was making sense. Sure, she didn’t know where it led. Sure, it was a slim chance, but it was a chance. She looked back to him, checking. He hadn’t moved, hadn’t changed. She looked one final time at the reflection, sizing it up. The open doorway was on the same wall as she was, just a little over from the bed. Had to be, or it wouldn’t be in the reflection. Seconds, that was all it would take, seconds. She decided.
The sound of his voice went off beside her like a bomb. He hadn’t shouted, hadn’t spoken at more than a whisper, but it ruptured her illusion of safety, of the possibility of escape. She stared at him.
‘Do not leave the bed.’
She saw the lips move, heard the words, but still he was so completely empty, so completely dead. For a moment she doubted herself, doubted he had spoken. What if it was her? What if she was making him up, had imagined his presence, never mind his voice? The thought scalded her, stole away what little composure she had. Without thought of it, she was up and off, heading for the doorway. Away, away, that was all she could think of. Away.
She tripped on the sheet that was wrapped round her, fell heavily onto the cool floor, found almost no purchase in it. A scrabble, a frantic scrabble, as she desperately tried to make the doorway just ahead of her. She kicked the sheet away, bare feet slipping and sliding on the surface of the bedroom. The darkness was really just ahead of her, the doorway was there, just there. With a push, she was over the threshold, scrabbling round on all fours, scooting through. The darkness was complete, she could see nothing once more, feel only the cold slickness underneath her. She tried to stand, found the door to her right, found the door handle. On her knees she rose and slammed the door shut, shutting out the light, shutting out Him. The silence crashed around her again, the darkness. The sound of rasping laboured breath. She put her thoughts away from her, to one side, and concentrated on the door. A door handle, maybe there was a lock, a key? In the dark she searched, her hands sodden with sweat once more. Nothing, she found nothing. Substituting her body for a lock, she turned around, slamming her back against the door, grimacing at the pain it caused. Sliding down, ignoring more pain, she landed on her bum and pushed. All she was she put into pushing against that door, feet barely gaining hold on the cold floor. She’d gone from a sheet between them, to a solid wooden door: she wasn’t giving it up. As she pushed, feet endlessly slipping on the floor, a thought did occur to her. It was the little voice again, the tiny echo somewhere in the back of her mind, the one that kept making suggestions, good, bad, fucking dangerous. You’re not being chased, it said. Nothing has come after you. She listened to it despite herself. All she wanted to do was concentrate on that wonderful solid door, and relish that she couldn’t see Him. No, that he couldn’t see her! She was this side, he was the other: it was going to stay that way. But the voice still niggled, still murmured, still sought to betray her jubilation. There was no one following her. There was no weight being pushed against the door. Nothing. It sank in, slowly, as the darkness around her did. She’d made the door because she hadn’t been chased: no one was after her. This thought slithered in as she continued to press against the door, continued to fight and slip and slide and desperately scrabble for support, something to hold onto to help her block Him out. No one was after her. It was just her, and the dark, and her rasping, echoing breath, and not knowing where the hell she was. Again.
It didn’t take long for tears to start. The feeling of complete helplessness, of humiliation. The dark around her once more became a physical thing that pressed down on her, swallowed her. She fancied she could taste it as it entered her mouth, beat against her eyes. She screamed, to force the dark away from her, to scare it out of her mouth, away from her eyes. The scream echoed, empty, hollow, fading. The sweat had started to pour from her again, rancid, slick; coating everything she touched. It became harder to stay against the door, to keep her folded legs under her. The more she tried, the more she slid around, the less hold she had. In a desperate movement to retain her position, she tried to stand a little, wedge her body harder into the cool frame. Her feet slid away and she fell, banging her head against the door. It didn’t hurt that much, but the unexpected motion of meeting something so hard and unyielding, of slipping again and again, of getting nowhere: it all took its toll. Before she could stop herself, before the voice could tell her this wasn’t a smart idea, she gave up. Lying on the floor, trying to ignore the wet sucking sounds of her own body, she put her hands over her face and folded herself in. She didn’t care, she couldn’t care: it was all too much. All there was were her tears, her terror and the dreadful stench of herself in the dark. She wasn’t going to play anymore, she was going home. The crying took her over, her head bowed so her face touched her knees, her hair plastered over her. She rocked in the sobbing darkness.
He sat, waiting, listening. He made a bet with himself: an hour, no longer.
She discovered going away was problematic. She didn’t know how long she had been rocking, how long she had been crying, but slowly, and as surely as when she had woken up, awareness started to reaffirm, force her to take notice of herself. Once more it started with her back. What had been a deep aching cramp was now a burning pain, spread up and around from the base of her spine. Her shoulders were bruised and aching too, adding their own tones to her back pain. Rocking, it had to be admitted, might have been comforting in some strange way, but it also hurt. The floor beneath her was no longer cold, but it was hard, hard and raw and pressing into her hip bone. Her head was filled with cotton wool, hard, impacted cotton wool that weighed her down and made her feel sick. Her face was just as sore, raw and open from the tears that stung their way endlessly over her skin. A gob of snot trailed from her nose down her cheek, sliding off into her hair. It was no good; as soon as she noticed one thing about her body another brought itself to her attention. She wiped her nose. Her hands ached, as did her wrists. Her knees felt raw and bruised, the soles of her feet tender and sore. Her lungs hurt and her throat felt as if it had been torn out. She was finding breathing difficult, a situation not helped by her being bent double. It was no good, the voice was saying, no good at all. She was just going to have to unfold, stretch out, breathe. She didn’t want to, didn’t want to admit she was awake, conscious, feeling. But the feeling part was not open to negotiation, she was feeling entirely too much.
It hurt to move but there was a great sense of relief, satisfaction, in turning on her back and stretching out. She realised she had been feeling stuffy and over hot, as moving back her head and letting in a great gulp of air, a sense of openness and coolness caressed her mouth and face. There was also a feeling of dizziness, but it soon passed. Lying there, spread out on the floor, heat and moisture evaporating off her body, she felt better, better than she had done. She sucked in the air, grateful for the release, grateful that there was something nice about the world. The room around her fell into perfect silence as her breathing slowed, calmed, became still. She concentrated on that for a moment, bringing her world down to the tiny regular movement of air going in, air going out. Air going in, air going out. The pains faded for a moment as she felt the air coming in, going out. The voice started up again. Started to think ahead, wonder what was going to happen, was she going to stand, was she going to sit? How had she gotten there? She pushed this question aside, it wasn’t to be looked at. She didn’t know why, but just thinking about it made her stomach clench, brought an iron band around her lungs making it difficult to breath. She searched around for another question, something easier. The voice accommodated: was she going to lie there for ever till she died of hunger and thirst? What a dramatic thought, she mused. To lie here and die of hunger and thirst. The voice laughed at her, began to talk through the odds of that, given what was on the other side of the door. This thought galvanised her, made her sit up too quickly, the dizziness almost overwhelming her. The other side of the door. He was on the other side of the door. Shit!
He loved to win bets. That had made three in a row this evening. He stood, silently moving towards the door. His hand reached for the switch. Soon, very soon.