It was a class assignment to send short stories for the Emirates Literary Festival; and I’ve noticed a trend in myself, in which whenever I’m forced to write something, it tends to be dark. And really morbid. Which is, honestly, not my personality but it’s fun to write those anyway.
I could feel my heart pounding. It was as if five thousand drums played simultaneously in my rib cage, the bass reverberating through my bones until my entire body shook with the percussion, from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. It was dark, all dark, as I ran through low-slung branches and thorny brambles, my shaking hands put up in front of me to take the impact of anything.
Then the smell of salt assailed my nostrils, and I looked up, feeling a cool breeze against my sweaty face. It was a relief, but I knew I couldn’t stay for long.
I fumbled at the blindfold over my eyes with a desperate moan, one which turned into a shriek of alarm as I slipped over moss, landing on my knees. I winced – that was a cut. My first attempt to get up wasn’t exactly fruitful. I was back on my hands and knees again.
This time, I did manage to get on my feet, feeling for footholds with the toe of my now worn boot. The drums were quiet now. That usually meant I didn’t need to run.
“Thank god,” I murmured to myself. I was still blind, but at least I could relax. Finding my way to the water, I let my knee soak in the salt, whimpering softly at the stinging. Then I sat and waited.
Soon enough, I started sinking, the rocks melting and engulfing my body until I was back in my bed. My eyes slowly opened, labored by the remnants of sleep, and then I sighed, turning to look at my alarm. 5:23 am. Like every morning. Exactly 7 minutes before my alarm would ring.
I lay in bed for the 7 minutes before I actually had to get up, staring up at the ceiling. I had memorized every crevice, every blemish by now. You know, I used to have a life. It wasn’t the best, but I did have one. Before my sister died, things were almost normal. My parents were functional, we weren’t as skint on money as we are now and I didn’t have any of the bruises I do now. I had something to look forward to.
Then she went and got herself sick and died. Inconsiderate brat.
But these dreams, they changed everything. I started getting them about a month after she died. It was always the same, running, running, running. Always blind. Always that feeling of dread, always the drums. Each dream picked up from where the last dropped off.
Probably just stress, I thought to myself. Just then, my alarm trilled. Automatically, I sat up and swung my legs off the bed-
Suddenly, I froze, staring down at my knee. An ugly, infected looking cut stared up at me, crusted and swollen. Exactly the same place as the one in my dream.
I could taste the bile in my mouth and leapt out of my bed and into the bathroom, falling on my knees before the toilet and heaving acid into the bowl. When I stopped vomiting, I sat on the floor and let my body shudder, my throat burning and tears in my eyes. I tried to avoid looking at my knee but my eyes kept flitting towards it. The cut seemed to be staring at me, accusatory.
“You left. Get back. You have unfinished business.”
My breath hitched and I looked around for the source of the voice. It echoed in my head and I pressed my palms against my ears to try and block it out.
“Unfinished business…unfinished business…unfinished…”
It kept echoing, almost like it was bouncing off the walls in my head, back and forth, ringing in my ears. I could feel the words on my tongue, could feel the words crawling in my skin. I dragged my nails down my arms, trying to get them out, trying to bleed them out, anything.
I screamed, tugging at my hair and groaning. My head was pounding and I was finding it hard to breathe. I took sharp, quick breaths, each moment of relief no longer than a second, trying to take in as much of blessed oxygen as I could. I could feel a wet sensation tickling my ear, dripping down the shell of it. My stomach felt hollow, from dread or from hunger, I didn’t know. Unbelievably, the first thing I was able to think of was how I shouldn’t have skipped dinner the night before.
I closed my eyes, murmuring to myself, “Please, please, please, please-”
A door appeared, bright and resplendent in its grandeur. Intricate carvings covered every inch of its spread-eagle doors, each an easy 15 feet in width and 25 in height. It beckoned towards me, humming, “Unfinished business, unfinished business,” like a steady mantra. I was on my knees, crawling towards it, my nails digging into damp earth. I felt the cut open, blood smearing against the ground, but I paid it no mind. Nothing would matter once I got through that door, almost there, almost-
My eyes flew open as a dull pain registered in my forehead. It was nothing compared to the pounding already in my head but I still felt the impact of my temples against the bathroom wall. The door had disappeared.
I gently rubbed my forehead, shakily getting back on my feet. I glanced at the mirror, taking note of the new bruise under my fringe. I still felt sick to my stomach but at least the voices had sto-
And again, the murmurs began in my head. I needed to sleep.
I was in my bed.
I was under my covers.
I was shaking, my eyes screwed shut, willing myself to pass into subconsciousness, willing myself to get backto those dreams. I needed to, I needed to make the voices stop. I sang to myself in the meantime:
A third of the night had passed,
And I threw myself on fire –
As I burnt myself alive,
I watched the demons laugh…
I’m not quite sure how long I was singing that song before the open door appeared again. It drew me in closer, closer, closer…
This time, I got through.
It was a rainy, damp morning. They’d all been rainy, damp mornings since Lydia’s funeral, last month. Her parents sat huddled in front of the forensic psychologist’s office, watching the rain patter down onto the windowpane. As usual, their hands were twined together.
When the door clicked, and the doctor murmured for them to come in, their movements were almost mechanical. A straightening of the knees, a stiffening of the posture and they stepped inside. The psychologist was already at his desk, rubbing his eyes. The case had been plaguing him as much as it had them.
“There was a note thrown carelessly against her trash bin – against, I mean, because it didn’t go inside the bin – which is why we didn’t see it. It said…- would you rather see it for yourself?”
A gentle nod of the father’s head. The mother looked down at her shoes.
The doctor slid the note across the desk and then leaned back, watching them. As Lydia’s father read the note, his eyes slowly widened and eyebrows furrowed in both shock and confusion. The doctor said, “There’s no doubt that it was a suicide but – coupled with how you said she’d been acting since her sister died – there’s…also no doubt that – and I do apologize, sincerely – that she was schizophrenic. A paranoid schizophrenic. Hallucinations, voices…the whole nine yards. And the note, you can understand why she would have jumped out the window. If only we’d have known sooner-”
He stopped abruptly. The father let the note slip back onto the desk, hands dropping down limply as if the bones had disappeared from his body. The mother glanced at the mirror and her lip twitched downwards. That glance was enough to register every single word in that note, and enough to make her stand up, a hand on her husband’s shoulder, “Thank you, doctor. We’ll go now.”
“Ah, yes, of course, I understand how it would come as a- let me lead you out-”
When the doctor came back, he picked up the tattered, wrinkled note from his desk, reading the desperately scrawled writing one last time as he dialed a number. “This is Dr. Dawson. We’re done here. The case regarding the suicide of Lydia Amaryllis Theodore is closed.”
The demons laughed so I escaped through the open door.