The world lit up with sudden flashes of blinding light, like angry blasts from the beyond. Big, fat raindrops erupted in torrents, pounding a savage, primordial beat that left the soul quaking and raw.
She jerked up in bed, shaken, confused, and reached out to turn on the fan, but realized the power had gone out. The air was heavy, sweltering. It was hard to breathe. The world lit up again and she dove under the sweat-drenched sheets, covering her ears to shut out the deafening cracks in the facade of the night, the glimpses of whirling, sucking horror that lay beneath. But when they came, her hands were no protection. They drilled through her head mercilessly, splitting, shattering. She tossed and turned under the covers, her mind screaming for reprieve as she was thrown into another time the world lit up and shook with blasts of a different kind.
She had been just a child when it happened, but had never been able to escape it completely. It simmered deep within her, and just when she thought it was finally over, erupted like bile, spewing out on friends, family, colleagues, smearing everything she did. The genocide. The screams of people. The fear on her parents’ face. The blood. The bodies. The shocking brutality of human beings towards others.
Her doctor had given her a mild sedative to help her sleep when it got bad. Usually it carried her into a mindless, blissful slumber, but that night it did nothing. When she finally fell asleep, it was not mindless or blissful. She dreamed that someone lay next to her on the bed, and could tell from the build that it was a man. He lay on his side, with his back to her. A chill sprouted in the bottom of her gut like mold and worked its way up to her heart, clutching, squeezing. Confused and scared, she stared at his still body, and as he turned his head slowly to face her, she found herself gazing at the face of one of their neighbors who had been killed in the war. His teeth jutted out of his mouth in a gruesome parody of a grin, and his soulless eyeballs shifted in bony eye sockets. She stared at him, telling herself that this was a dream, that it wasn’t real; it couldn’t be. It was the effect of the storm combined with memories of the war.
Suddenly she felt herself seized by her nightgown in the back of her neck. And something sinister began throbbing in the room. Her skin crawling with fear, heart thudding painfully against her ribs, she felt herself being lifted up, up, off the bed, all the way to the ceiling. Now, held up by the scruff like a defenseless kitten, she was looking down at the thing on her bed. The thing stared up at her, grinning the whole time, and the room continued oozing with something menacing, malevolent.
What do you want from me? She whispered in anguish, head and limbs dangling from the ceiling. It was not I that hurt you. I haven’t done anything wrong. She had done nothing. She could have run out to the people who lay bleeding out there. She could have taken them water, bandaged their wounds. “I was just a child. I didn’t know anything.”
All of a sudden she plummeted to the bed with a force that knocked the wind out of her. She lay there for a few minutes, eyes closed, catching her breath, then opened her eyes and looked around tentatively for the thing lying next to her. It was gone.
Leaping out of bed, she ran to the window and threw it open. It was daylight. Somehow she had slept through the night. The sun was coming out, beaming warmth, reassurance. The air was pungent with the sweet aftermath of a cleansing rain. Shrubs and trees danced with new life, and the gentle, herby smell of chrysanthemums saturated the air. She breathed deeply, filling every pore, every cell in her body with that warmth, and slowly exhaled. There was nothing on her bed, no evil in her bedroom. Just the sun pouring in through the window, the scent of flowers, the dancing foliage. The storm and the whirling eddy of horror faded with every minute that went by. But she knew it continued to lurk beneath. It was a part of her, of who she was; and no matter how hard she tried to escape, it would always be one of the things that defined her. Maybe as time went on, she could accept it and learn to live with it instead of pushing it away. Maybe then the nightmares would stop.