When I awoke, I was so disorientated that I had almost forgotten where I was – almost I say, because, I was vaguely aware of the light of an unseen crescent moon casting my window’s curtains in a pale, blue-grey glow. The light was so weak, it barely extended beyond the bedclothes at the bottom of my bed. Not even the flicker of stars was visible in the cloudless sky.
One of my three bedroom windows was open, which I considered strange for I rarely opened them except on the warmest Summer’s day and certainly never at night. I was drenched in sweat. It was a nightmare I told myself; nothing more than a very bad dream. I had just awoken from a nightmare and that was that. No more than that. I was an adult and I could easily rationalize it. And yet, I knew that even as I thought of it, that that was not true. Telling myself it was a bad dream, merely a nightmare again and again and again, would not make it so.
Damn my rationality!
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I looked around the room to assure myself it was indeed my own bed chamber. I sat up, pulling the bed sheets around my neck in a vain effort to retain some warmth. Yes, there in the corner was my desk, and there my wardrobe. On the floor to my left I could see where my clothes, left on the bed the night before, had fallen to the floor. Soaking in sweat and irrational fear, my eyes searched the room again. No doubt about it, this was my own chamber; and yet, and yet something was amiss.
I tried to reason with myself. It was something I had eaten the evening before. It was common knowledge that certain foods, cheese especially, were the cause of nightmares. And if not that then most likely it was that an over indulgence in red wine had cause my mind to drift back to the days and nights of my childhood, when night terrors had been common. Yes that was it! It must have been the wine, or something I ate, the cheese probably.
But I had had no wine. And I distinctly remember supper – I had eaten early with friends. No cheese. I had gone to bed early as I was tired from a long day and the company of friends, rather than relaxing me had had the effect of tiring me even more with the expectation of lively conversation, which had caused me to suffer a headache.
However hard I tried to explain my unease, I was inextricably being forced to face the irrefutable conclusion that I was not responsible for the growing fear in me. Something, or someone else, was.
But what? Or who?
Once more I looked around the room. More and more the contents of the room came into focus. The net curtains fluttered gently in the night breeze. I could vaguely see the roof-tops of the surrounding buildings across the street, through the window, the glow of the moon reflecting weakly from their wet slates. It had been raining overnight.
The long, night hours had long ago extinguished the last of the embers of my fire. I could just make out the fire surround and my armchair to its left. That general corner of the room was always the most poorly lit and for this reason had been chosen as the site for my most comfortable chair. I would often sit by the fire, reading or reflecting on the events of the day before retiring to bed, being gently seduced by the almost erotic dancing of the flames of the log fire, their writhing motions slowing replaying in my head, as my mind drifted little by little into slumber. So often I had fallen asleep by it, listening to the low-pitched hiss of the flames and the odd, irregular crack as the logs gave up their gaseous prisoners.
And yet something now was odd about that chair. At first I could not quite see what it was. Then, quite all of a sudden, I realized it was not where I was accustomed to having it. Normally, it was placed it at a slight angle facing the fire. It is true that I, or the maid, would occasionally alter its position to a small extent to accommodate cleaning of the grate or take best advantage of where the light fell best from a candle placed on my desk or the mantle piece, if I wished to read. But always, the chair would have its back facing my bed.
But now, it was gone! It must have been placed in the shadow, facing me, with its back against the wall! Suddenly, I was seized with fear as the realisation forced itself on me that I was assuredly not alone!
As I tried to make out the features of the chair I became acutely aware that someone was sitting in it. But the natural position of that corner of the room, farthest from the window and set back against the side of the fire surround, prevented me from seeing who it was! Could I have been mistaken? Yes, surely I was seeing things. That was it. The nightmare and the pale light of the moon creeping into the room were playing tricks with my eyes. And my eyes were mistaken. Yes, that was it. I need do no more than return to sleep and I would wake in the morning, my room bathed in glorious sunshine, and hear the normal sound of the maid, knocking on my door, informing me that breakfast would soon be ready and asking if I would like her to leave some hot water with which I could wash.
But my fear had gripped me and taken such a hold of me, that there was no possibility of me closing my eyes for anything other than a Devine Command and at that precise moment even that was in doubt as I was not a believer. As much as I wished to tear my gaze away from that chair, I simply could not.
There was someone there!
But who? My eyes had not deceived me. Someone was there, sitting, facing me. I knew it no matter how much I tried to dissuade myself that it was otherwise. I strained my eyes to better penetrate that darkness. My ears too strained for the merest sound of breathing. But nothing! Nothing!
I tried again to reason with myself. I was sleeping but I was, at the same time, awake. I was about to start sleep-walking. Yes, of course that was it! As a child I had often been found wandering the rooms of this very house and even descending and climbing the stairs whilst all the while, fast asleep. My eyes would be open and I would even talk coherently if challenged by anyone who happened to meet me on such an occasion. My mother had often gently led me back to bed at all hours of the night. She had, in the early days, asked if I had any recollection of such exploits and, receiving no adequate answer, had had me examined by a physic.
The poor physician examined me in a most thorough fashion, and declared me the fittest young boy he had the pleasure of attending. Initially, he assured my mother that these ‘things’ were of such a common occurrence that she ought not to be alarmed. Most boys of my age walked in their sleep. I would soon “grow out of it”. But I didn’t. And that had meant repeated and frequent calls to the unfortunate doctor to examine me again and again at all and any hours of the day and night, as there must surely be some explanation, some diagnosis which would naturally lend itself to a therapy of some sort.
But no. No such diagnosis was ever forthcoming and so my mother had sought the opinion of other, successively more renowned medical personages, none of whom could render any more success in curtailing my night excursions or alleviating her growing anxiety than our own local physic. Eventually, tired of “meddlesome” physicians who were “quick to bill and slow to cure” she accepted that my sleep walking was causing me no apparent harm and, on the contrary, as my education was proceeding exceptionally well, sufficient for me to be considered for entry into the Church (I dismissed that as a non-believer), or even Law (she dismissed the possibility of Medicine, not unreasonably I thought, given her experience), she accepted that I was simply “different” to other boys. Thereafter, her favourite phrase was, “Throw physic to the dogs! I’ll have none of it!” ‘though she had scant knowledge of any other work of the great bard.
My mother had died twelve years before and had left me a handsome estate. My father had died many years before that. She had gone to her death never knowing what was the cause of this apparently benign affliction. Her only regret had been that I had not married and “settled down to raise a family as all good men should”.
Yes, I thought, returning to the present. I stilled my breathing, straining once again to try and discern any sign of a presence other my own in that room. But no! Nothing again. Did I dare climb out of bed and explore that corner for myself? Did I have the courage and the strength to face whatever, or whoever, was in that corner, sitting in my chair?
My fear was so all encompassing that I barely breathed for fear that the sound of life from my lungs would alert that malevolent presence which weighed so heavily on my psyche. And yes, it must surely be a malevolent presence, whatever else it might be. Silently I cursed the sound of my heart and the blood coursing through my veins which I knew of a certainty would likewise alert to my presence, my oh, so unwelcome ‘guest’.
But I need not have worried, I persuaded myself. My ‘visitor’ must surely know where he is? On whom he has called? I say he, for my senses screamed that only a member of the male sex could inspire such terror. Surely, I thought, as I continued my silent admonition of myself by myself, this creature (for clearly no human was capable of inspiring such dread) must mean me harm. How often had my poor, dear but dead mother implored me to heed my intuition, a device which the Lord (in whom I did not believe) seemed to have blessed the fairer sex despite her betrayal of her male companion in the Great Garden.
And now, yes, and now here I was, terrified to my very bones to even move the bedclothes for fear its rustling might attract the unwanted attention of the presence of whatever fiend occupied my chair but remained resolutely in the shadows. And more, now that I had reconciled myself with the undeniable fact that I was not alone but rather in the company of some diabolical creature, I found myself praying (yes silently praying!) to that very Deity in whom I had for so long professed an utter disbelief.
Each second might have been an eon. I felt the weight of the bedclothes, a great burden on my body like the weight of Ages. Each precious breath I took, each beat of my galloping heart seemed to delight in my helplessness. How long must I bear this ordeal, dear Lord, how long?
And then … There … There again. Was I mistaken? Quiet! I held my breath, denying my body the air it so desperately craved. Yes, I did hear it! There was a sound … A shoe rubbing upon my rug. I knew the sound so well! I could not mistake it! But, still no sight of anything or anyone.
Was that a movement in the shadow? Yes, I’m sure it was. Perhaps, not. But then, if not, what could have drawn my eyes to the deepest darkness of that corner? It must have been a movement! I heard a sound at the same time I saw a movement. My senses could not have deceived me!
And then, oh horror of horrors, my grimmest fears were realized! As I gazed and strained to comprehend what had conquered my senses so completely, I saw two small eyes, very slowly and deliberately, opening and looking directly at me. I forcibly stifled my sharp intake of breath, but could not suppress the noise of the bedclothes as I pulled them even more closely around my neck.
Those eyes, were not human! They emitted a pale yellow hue … and the pupils were cat-like! And yet they were at a level where I would have expected my own eyes to have been had I been the occupant of that chair. Could they be eyes? What else could they be? Yes, yes! They must be eyes – they blinked! Oh Lord keep safe thy servant here, ‘though he be not worthy of Thy protection …
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