I can't see her but I know she's there; an old woman, her skin withered and dry, standing in the darkness like a terrible statue. Her mouth is wide open with a silent scream that never seems to end and her fingers are outstretched, her frozen-in-time expression wordlessly accusing me of some untold crime committed by my ancestors without my knowledge or consent. Nonetheless, she blames me; I'll turn on my light and she will look at me, her empty white eyes staring, and that will be that. A single thought passing through her ghoulish brain and I'll cease to exist; extinguished in the blink of an eye.
I need to go to the toilet. Badly.
To get to the bathroom I have to turn on my light, put on my slippers, navigate my way past the bedroom debris across my floor, pull open my door, walk out into the hallway (missing the dodgy vacuum cleaner and the painting of the old New York skyline we haven't found a home for), down the landing and through the first door on the left. I know this route by heart, and normally it'd be no big thing, but I can't, not tonight. As soon as I turn on my light, the old woman will stare at me and I'll die. They'll find me the next morning in a crumpled pile, blood running down my face and my eyes fixed open like milky stones. And around me will be a large, soaking puddle of urine, because I need to go to the toilet.
There's nothing for it; I've decided. I'll stumble around the debris on my floor, being careful not to kick over the Lego statue of Darth Vader, go out the door, avoid the vacuum cleaner and the picture, down the landing and through the first door on the left without turning the light on. That way she won't see me, and I won't die. It's a simple plan, but I'm already congratulating myself on its brilliance.
Slowly, carefully, I edge one foot out of bed. The floor is colder than the souls of a million corpses. Death pervades the floorboards, and I am permeated with an intense sense of dread. The hair on my back is standing on end.
Next foot. Softer, warmer, this time; I've somehow managed to land with love between my toes. My wonderful, beautiful, darling slipper; no doom for this foot!
Unless the slipper is full of spiders, I correct myself. Stupid. I should have anticipated this possibility. I quickly pull my foot away and onto the freezing hell-floor; surely there must be a way I can test for spiders without arousing the suspicions of the old woman? I can't make a sound.
Quietly, I reach down with my hand, gingerly pick up the slipper with the tips of my second and third fingers. I lift it above my chest, carefully avoid my head in order to prevent a spidery avalanche plummeting into my gaping eyes, pass it into the second and third fingers of my other hand, lift it further aloft and toss it out the window. That'll teach those spindly creepsters to come marauding round my neck of the woods.
Both feet back on the floor again. I ignore the fearful chill of assured damnation which is slowly worming its way up my legs. Between me and door-shaped victory is an obstacle course of epic proportions: interlocking bricks, trousers, an exercise machine, a small pile of socks and a ghostly old woman determined to give me the evil eye. Somehow I need to traverse all this in pitch darkness without arousing her suspicions. At least the spiders are out of the way.
Best foot forward, I think, and my right foot steps out in front of me like a five-toed picture of cool. Immediately I trip over Darth Vader and find myself on all fours, the ferocity of my inner swearing matched only by that of the silent scream dangling somewhere above me. I can almost feeling her turning, fingers grasping, searching for the source of the crash. I have to move. Moving is important. Moving is life preserving and necessary.
I pick myself up the floor, and slide with my other foot on something cold and slippery. A magazine? A pool of congealed blood, fresh with leeches and smouldering evil? It doesn't matter. I'm on the ground again, covered in socks. She's sure to find me.
I wait. For a movement, for a breath, for any sign that the hag is making her evil way towards me. For all I know I could be lying there for hours, covered in socks, Darth Vader askew beneath my knees. My breathing - oh, God, my breathing - is heavy with fear. I can't stop it; in out, in out, rapid-fire, it's all I can hear. I need to control my lungs. I must remain here, let my body grow still and wait for silence.
My bladder is overflowing. My overwhelming temptation is to lie here and let loose my amber tides, piss seeping all over the carpet, my body above the currents like Jesus, but I think of the explanations and shudder. In the morning the woman will be gone, and the only evidence suggesting she ever existed will be a slipper in the garden and a puddle of urine all over my floor. I'll try to explain and they'll put me away into some kind of mental institution, with moss climbing up the padded walls and the patients' grease on the floor. Then, late at night, I'll be locked in with her and she'll have me for good.
I pick myself up off the floor and quietly shake off the socks, which, for all I know, scuttle back onto their pile like sodden little pedorats. I'm halfway to the door now. I can feel her shadow on my back.
I put out my left arm and touch wall. Despite the icy chill - colder than the floor; colder than the chill in my stomach and the bubbling sense of foreboding between my legs, even - I am pleased. I can follow the wall to get to the door, follow the door to get to the hall, follow the hall to get to the landing and follow the landing to get to the bathroom. I can follow the bathroom to get to pee.
I inch forwards again, slowly, taking little baby steps while my hand runs against the wall. I'm advancing, making strong headway now, nearly out of the room and into the free and as good as pissing like a waterfall -
Someone has moved the door. I'm sure it used to be here, sitting in the wall, next to the wardrobe and across from my little writing desk, which although I can't see, I'm sure hasn't been moved. Writing desks don't move, and they have legs. Doors are set in stone and cement. They don't move. They can't move. I can't find the door.
Goosebumps are working their way across my skin; they'll be on my eyes next, I can feel it. In my brain. Time is of the essence. I've decided: I have to decide where the door's moved to and make a lunge for it. An all or nothing attempt, like Indiana Jones running for a cavern entrance with a stone portcullis making its way towards the ground.
There are three remaining room corners, unless someone's stolen one of them as well. It can't be the one nearest my bed; that's more or less where I started, and to jump back to there I'd have to brave the spiders, the pedorat socks and Lego Darth Vader all over again. There's another one, slightly further away from my bed, which I'm fairly certain has a hat stand in it, and certainly my Victorian torture device of an exercise machine; that collision could potentially be painful, and I'd rather avoid it. Which means there's only one place I can leap to.
Deep breath. I take as much of a run up as I can, which is to say I take a standing jump preceded by a camp little attempt at a skip, and for a moment I'm flying through the darkness. It feels exhilarating; I'm finally making my escape, I think, as I come back to the floor and crash into the door with my shoulder, possibly dislocating it. This is it. Exit time.
I open the door and step out into the hall. The vacuum cleaner greets me, reflected in the shiny glass picture of the New York City skyline. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre seem to be cheering me on, and through the pain and the slight dizzy sensation, I discover that I'm no longer afraid. The night is mine, I think, as I start walking down the hallway towards the landing, the toilet, and victory.
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