It comes alive at night. I keep praying it won’t, but the moment my body begins to relax as I enter the quiet place that precedes sleep, it comes. Dread steals the power from my limbs, my lungs deflate, and I forget how to refill them.
I can’t run, can’t hide, can’t even scream. I’m motionless, staring at the sickly, pale green glow that creeps across the ceiling, getting ever closer to my bed. All there is for me to do is wait. Wait for it to reach me, for it to take what it wants, for it to shamble back to its rightful place again.
It moves slowly. Linen scuffs against the floor, heavy with dust and the dirt of ages. Beneath the sound, the light tread of one foot is followed by the dull scrape of another. Step…drag…step…drag…
It goes on forever.
And then it stops.
My heart forces out three deafening beats and then stalls when I feel a slight dip of the mattress. I hear the soft protest of a spring. I don’t want to look, don’t want to see, but my gaze is moving down my chest, down my belly, down to the muted light just beyond my toes.
My crow’s feet become channels for tears, leading them past my temples, into my hair and ears. It’s down there with one hand on the mattress between my feet. The other is pulling slowly at the thin blanket that does nothing to warm nor protect me.
Through a curtain of black hair, soulless eyes stare from a grimy porcelain face. A jerk to the right, to the left, then its tilted head settles. It has no expression. No guilt, no shame, no malevolence. No surprise when the blanket springs free and I’m exposed. It knew what it would find beneath the covers. I did, too.
A breath rattles through my chest and I realise that the power to release my scream is mine once more. But I don’t use it. I just watch the blank-faced thing crawl slowly up my legs, watch its hands clasp in front of it as it stares at the one part of me that has the freedom of movement.
And it stares. I stare back. With each passing moment, I feel warmer, colder, heavier, tighter. The intensity of the nothing in those eyes is concentrated on that one spot until, without warning, it erupts. Sweat beads on my forehead, my muscles clench and release, my body shakes so much the light begins to wax and wane.
One long sigh becomes a gust of wind and the room is dark once more. My shaky hands light the stub of a candle. It glows softly, warmly in the cold cell. I pull the blanket up in a desperate attempt to cover the mess at the top of my thighs, eyeing the brothers lying in the beds on the other side of the room to ensure none of them is awake. They would scold me for these nightly emissions if they knew.
With great reluctance, I shift my gaze to the statuette on the desk in the corner. It’s there, exactly where it should be, an inanimate, dusty ornament. I could almost believe I’d just woken from a dream – a nightmare – if it wasn’t for a few small details. The colours of that ancient figurine faded long ago, yet its cheeks are flushed. There’s a tilt to its mouth that could almost be a smile and, in the corner on the right side, there’s a small drop of something wet and white.
It comes alive at night, but only because I keep feeding it.