The dark space of the attic was filled with boxes, broken clothes-rails, junk and toys. Moth eaten clothes flapped. There was a creak of floorboards and I whipped round, dust settling as I saw a dark shape materialise.
Reaching out, I knew who it was- my best friend R’s fiance. I wanted a hug, some reassurance that the whole attic didn’t harbour what I was most terrified of.
Instead, he lunged forward onto all fours, teeth snapping, and his features melted into the monster. Humanoid but not human, like my friend but not my friend, and teeth snapping for my flesh.
I fled, a strangled scream pushing from my lips, past boxes and broken things and shadows that mocked me. It was so close, it was going to sink teeth into me at any second…
I ran slap-bang into my friend Mr Robot. He grabbed me, held me tight, and I sank to the floor, a sobbing wreck. I opened my mouth to try and tell him what had just happened, but his teeth snapped at my face and a grin stretched along a mouth that was widening beyond normal human range- the monster again! His teeth snapped shut on air inches from my eye and I fought5 to extricate myself, wriggling out and running for the open door where light streamed through from the landing.
He followed, the monster did, galloping unnaturally on all fours. More clothes rails hung out here on the landing, more clothes flapping and then stopping abruptly when the monster hid…
And then it lunged from a rack close to me, teeth reaching for my calf, wild hunger in its eyes and skin gleaming in the harsh light of the single lightbulb. I screamed, scrabbling backwards, clasping its throat in my fingers, bashing its head onto the floor, the instinct to survive overpowering the revulsion at the creature’s heartless disguises- manifesting itself as my dad, my friend Mr Robot, my best friend’s fiance-
I jerked awake and threw back the covers. My eyes were gritty and my throat ached from that scream I’d been unable to give voice to. I scrambled out of bed, still running from the thing, knowing it waited to devour me whole, ripping flesh from bone, in the darkest corner of my nightmares. I had no balance as I made it into the hall, my legs made of jelly, my hands over my eyes to protect myself from the light that suddenly streamed into being. My lurching gait brought me to the lounge, where I stood stock still, waiting for it to get me now. I had come to a dead end.
Where the fuck was I?
“Babe? Are you ok? What’s the matter?”
I turned: J was lying on the couch. I dimly recalled that about an hour or more ago, he’d left me sleeping so he could try and wind down, his insomnia not letting him sleep. I stumbled towards him and slid down onto the couch beside him.
“Was it a nightmare, hon?”
I shivered. he laid the gentlest of hands on me, stroking my side as I shook. His kind hand found my shoulders and arms, ran along them, and he told me I was safe and no-one was coming for me.
Those warm calm hands brought me from the no-where-space of my nightmares, and into the real world. I wanted to sleep but the beast still beckoned me.
“Are you ok, babe?”
I nodded, then rethought.
“J, that nightmare was horrible.”
“I know, baby. Believe me, it will pass. Eventually the nightmares will fade, and you’ll be ok.”
I sighed, and snuggled into his arms.
“Sometimes, when I wake up from a nightmare, I think I’m going to die.”
“No, baby. You’re safe here. Nothing like that’s gonna happen to you, I promise.”
Later, as he led me back to bed, I felt safe again. I trusted he’d not let even my dreams hurt me, and I was right. I was still alive, and the monster in my dreams, wearing my friends’ faces, was dead.