Abby could not remember when or why, but at some point, she learned to dread the night, the darkness and stillness which seemed to envelope her when the sun slipped from the sky. Equally so, she dreaded the inevitable times when she could no longer fight the urge to close her eyes and drop off to sleep. She had become proficient at staving off sleep, eating late, drinking two or more cups of coffee after dinner, finding endless ways to occupy herself so she didn’t think about sleep. Still, it always seemed to overtake her, and when she could no longer resist, she’d lay upon her bed, curling into a ball, and close her eyes, telling herself it would only be for a few minutes. The fear she felt at these times was understandable, because it was when she released herself to sleep that she became most vulnerable, not to forces outside herself, but to the dark and horrifying images inside her head.
Tonight was no exception. From the moment she closed her eyes, the apprehension was there and before she even realized it, she was alone, walking along a darkened street, the only sound were her feet clicking along cobblestones. She did not recognize the place, could not recall ever being in such a situation, but an eerie sense of familiarity consumed her. The building numbers and street names meant nothing to her, and she could not see anyone else around. She walked on for what seemed an eternity before she began to sense she wasn’t alone. She looked around, but could see no one, but the feeling would not leave her. She quickened her pace, though she had no idea where she was going, nor where she would be when she arrived, but still she moved quicker. She became aware of the sound of footsteps behind her, but when she looked, no one was there.
Now she was running, turning corners quickly, hoping to lose whoever it was who was after her, but the faster she moved, the closer the sound seemed to be. She could hear a voice, which seemed to emanate from all around her, though she could not identify the source, nor what it was trying to say to her. It sounded like a low murmur, like the sound of an announcer on a television in another room. The only part she could make out clearly was the repetition of her own name at regular intervals. Suddenly there was a light behind her, tracking her every move. The footsteps seemed to be right behind her. She was running as fast as she could, but the harder she tried to push herself, the less ground she seemed to cover. Her legs felt heavy, stiff, as though she were carrying a heavy weight, but still she pushed on, not wanting whoever was behind her to catch her. She turned another corner and was met with a blinding light and out of the midst of the light, a figure sprang at her, grabbing her arms.
Abby awoke screaming, drenched in sweat, gasping for air, her heart pounding, her entire body trembling, and it took her several minutes to orient herself, to realize she was in her room, at her home, safe. She sat up, and turned so she was sitting on the edge of the bed, and tried to catch her breath. She buried her face into her hands and concentrated on the sounds around her, the clock ticking, the hum of the air conditioner, the drip of the faucet in her bathroom, the sound of traffic in the street. She inhaled deeply, held it for several seconds then exhaled slowly, and repeated this until she felt herself becoming calm again.
It would be a long time before she could again try to sleep.