Ali's scream tore up the night and suddenly he
was wide awake and poised for danger.
He relaxed a little bit when he realised where he was, but the point of his wife's elbow dug into his back. Without waking she mumbled, "she wants you this time". Sighing deeply, he stepped out onto the cold wooden floor. "Daddy, daddy!" she screamed again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," he muttered.
He walked the length of the hallway to Ali's room and said softly, "don't worry, sweetheart, it was only a bad dream", as he flicked the light switch. Nothing. He rocked it back and forth a few times, but the room like the rest of the house remained dark. Silhouetted by the faint moonlight, he could see his daughter sitting upright, clutching a blanket around her.
"There's a monster in the room and he broke all the lights."
"No, sweetheart," he said, scooping her into a warm cuddle, "the monster didn't break all the lights. It's just another blackout."
They could only see each other as shadows, but in the darkness she found his hand and held tight to his enormous fingers. "I was scared. I thought I saw a monster."
"It was only a bad dream."
"Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?
"Of course, darling."
He gently stroked her hair and sang a nonsense song softly to her until he felt her breathing fall into the rhythm of sleep again. The grip on his hand relaxed a little. Delicately, he tried to move, but she gave his finger a warning squeeze while continuing to snore.
Moving to the country seemed like such a good idea, but he was beginning to have his doubts. It took 20 minutes to drive to a supermarket, his dish only picked up about half the channels and the power seemed to go out every time it rained. And it was so quiet. Peaceful
, his wife said, but he remembered this kind of silence from when he was a child
. Back then, it had seemed almost threatening to him; lifeless, but pregnant with the possibility of danger and he used to hide under the blanket waiting for the monsters to reveal themselves by making a noise. No wonder Ali was scared. When he was a boy, the dark terrified him.
Even now, as a man, he found himself sitting in his daughter's room, aware of the silence filling it like a thick, velvet fog. Ali's breathing had faded away to nothing, and for a while all he could hear was the gentle pulsation
of the blood through his veins. Even that seemed to fade away. There was no sound. There was little light. Had time stopped?, he wondered, as he listened.
Something cracked against the window.
Ali didn't seem to notice anything, but a tsunami of fear crashed over him, an icy chill that started at his scalp and flooded to his toes, and for a second he was bargaining with any God who would listen, please don't let it hurt me
. It was just a moment though
. He let out a very quiet sigh as he looked and saw that a gust of wind had caught the branch of the tree outside, and it had rapped against the glass.
He shut his eyes and used all of his will to coax his heart from out of his throat and back down to his chest. This feeling suddenly seemed so familiar. The dry mouth, the cold skin, the stomach that feels like it was full of swirling water. How many nights as a kid had he spent like this? Sitting up for hours, completely paralysed by fear
, waiting to become exhausted before passing out. He resolved there and then to buy Ali a night light the next day. Poor thing. He imagined her sitting in the dark like he was now, scanning around the room for dark corners where they could be hiding, ready to get her. Like the closet.
It was a large, built-in closet with sliding mirrored doors facing the bed. He hated it but it had come with the house. One of the doors was open, just a crack, and next to the dark silhouette of his own reflection, he could see a thick patch of absolute blackness, black as space without the stars. They
could be in there right now, he realised, hiding in that dark space in the closet, staring back out at him, waiting for him to let his guard down so that they could make their move.
He pulled Ali a little closer to him.
He turned to look out of the window, which was an even bigger mistake. Ali's window was angled towards the sky with no curtains, so that she could sleep under the stars every night. Why had he done that? He had been terrified of open curtains when he was a child. He stared at the window now, imagining them somewhere just out of view, maybe trying to sneak a peek at him now and then when he wasn't looking. What if he caught them? What if he turned to the window and instead of seeing the black night sky, he saw a shadow, and a pair of glowing eyes
staring at him? What would he do?
He felt like his brain was somersaulting inside his skull.
He wanted to get up and go back to his own bed, just get the hell out of here, but as he looked towards the floor, a nagging voice told him: they're under the bed. He pictured it: a pair of icy, dead hands shooting out from under the bed, grabbing his ankles, and pulling him under. There would be silence afterwards, and Ali would never know what had happened to him.
He was beginning to tremble a little now, and Ali seemed to feel the motion in her sleep. She groaned slightly and tried to turn around. He immediately grabbed her and shook her. "Are you okay?" he asked.
She made a noise of recognition, but wasn't really awake.
"I think you were having a nightmare. Do you want to come sleep with us tonight?"
Ali woke up long enough to mutter an "uh-huh".
He scooped her up in his arms and, pushing himself with one leg, managed to jump far away enough from the bed to be safe from the hands
. Taking care to stay out of arm's reach from the closet, he darted for the door. Now the tricky part. The corridor was long - god damn, why had he bought this house? - and they would be really vulnerable. He put his head down and ran the length, convinced each step would be his last. He could feel them pursuing, their breath on his neck. They were almost on him, just closing their fingers around him when, with one last effort, he ran into his room and slammed the door behind him.
The sound of the door closing seemed to break a spell, and suddenly he stopped feeling like a little boy and started feeling like an idiot. What was he doing running in his own house? Why was he, a grown man
, acting like a kid? What the hell was he even afraid of?
The things that live just in the corner of your vision
, something inside him said
He climbed into bed with Ali and held her close. "Couldn't she sleep?" asked his wife.
"No. Thought I'd bring her in. Just for tonight."
"Mmmm," she said, "you're such a good father."
He pulled the blankets up high over the three of them, because everything under the covers was safe