John Pullen | Alankrita Amaya
He woke suddenly; shaken from what he thought must have been a bad dream. He couldn’t quite remember what had got him so scared or why he’d needed to wake up so desperately, but it was over now. His heartbeat was returning to it’s normal rhythm, and sitting up in the stillness of the dark room he tried to put the nightmare behind him.
Clearing his throat he folded back the duvet carefully trying not to wake her. She had been so stressed lately, and a glance at the dimly lit bedside clock told him they would have to be up in a little over two hours. Mouth still dry, he decided to move quietly — to allow her that little extra time of uninterrupted sleep — he could give her that at least.
Dressed in an uncomfortable sweat, he eased himself from the bed and manoeuvred their abandoned clothes across the floor, finding his way through the room like he had made the journey a thousand times before. His eyes were lazier than his limbs and he struggled to focus from underneath their sleepy weight. He had still not woken up yet.
The house was not large — it was only the two of them so despite the quiet darkness, each step down their narrow staircase was taken with a familiar confidence, but the thought that lurked somewhere in the folds of his drowsy mind, was a quiet nagging that warned something was still amiss.
Avoiding the step that he knew would loudly creak under his weight, he alighted the staircase and was halfway through the little hallway towards the kitchen when a sudden, unforgiving racket cut sharply through the stillness of the night as he tripped over something underfoot.
Glass and cardboard cried out in an agitated protest, clattering loudly to the floor and echoing throughout the small house. The little green recycling box — stacked in the hall precisely to not be forgotten the next morning — sent a stabbing pain up through the toes it had just connected with.
Swearing at the mistake under his breath and stooping to rub his sore foot, he heard movement from the bedroom upstairs. The slow creak of wood — A floorboard? No, the bed — which was followed by a hurried scuffle, and the thud of something hard falling to the floor.
He lumbered through the kitchen towards the sink — feeling defeated in his efforts to let her sleep a little longer — took an upturned glass from the draining board and half filled it with water. He felt the coolness travel down through his body and settle next to the uneasy feeling that still lingered in his stomach.
Turning, he made for the hallway and took the staircase with slightly less care than before, water still in-hand. Arcing the bedroom door open to the messy room, he could see the little bedside clock now resting on the floor where it had clearly landed — still taunting him with a wholly unreasonable time of hour.
She was curled up and facing away from him. If she had woken from the noise downstairs, it hadn’t been for long, and now looked remedied at least as she had claimed the duvet-for-two as her own. He placed the glass onto the little bedside table and lent over to offer a gentle kiss. She always smelled so good, and gently brushing back her hair he inhaled the familiar, comforting smell that he knew was so much better than frankincense. She made a sleepily approving noise in her throat and he folded himself into the shape of her as he always did.
Just as sleep began to take him, an old memory of the distant alarm clock on the floor brought him back from the brink of rest. He sat up, drawing his arm out from under her and turning away, but it was as he stepped out from the bed and leaned down to reach for the little clock that he saw her, there under the bed.
He recognised the faded blue t-shirt as his own — the one she’d borrowed to sleep in all that time ago and had never needed to return. She stared back at him from under there in the darkness, her expression a mixture of fear and warning. His startled confusion quickly evolved into terror as he looked back into her watery eyes.
“…there’s something in our bed.” she whimpered.
Before he had time to make sense of what he was seeing, he found he had already stood up and taken steps back in fright. He could see them both now, right there in front of him. She was in their bed where he had just left her, but she was also beneath it with that desperate look of dread.
Disbelief froze him where he stood. His muscles were concrete — tension incarnate as panic flooded his thoughts, drowning all reason. She rolled over in their bed to face him, a look of weary confusion asking him to come back to bed, while she gestured from the space below that he should turn and run for his life from whatever it was that had invited itself into —and was currently laying in — their bed.
It wasn’t right. Wasn’t possible. His stomach lurched and he wanted nothing more than to wake from this — he needed to wake up from this nightmare. Right now. The ringing that had started in his ears grew violent, and the searing pain behind his eyes suddenly forced him off balance. He fell in what felt like the slowest of motions — swallowed by the pain in his head and this assault of all senses — maybe he wasn’t falling at all.
He woke suddenly; shaken from what he thought must have been a bad dream. He couldn’t quite remember what had got him so scared or why he’d needed to wake up so desperately, but it was over now.