For those already familiar with Lily Childs' February Femmes Fatales, you might recognise this short story called Nocturne. It started life as a short story entry for a competition a while back, and although it didn't get anywhere, I rehashed it to make it much darker and creepier.
Those who have experienced hypnagogic states will probably understand the terror lurking in this story. I have only ever experienced it once (thankfully) about 24 years ago while in my teens, and even to this day I still recall the terror and the feeling it caused. Of course, it wasn't helped by my irrational fear of the dark...
Kate had always suffered bad dreams, for as long as she could remember. The kind that crept into her consciousness each night, fingering and ripping at her nerves like a dirty, eager demonic whore.
She often dreaded sleep. It brought with it the creature that feasted on her fears and sneered at her like a repellent child.
Hypnagogia, the doctors said. The transitional stage between wakefulness and sleep, and the cause of her strange visions. But despite the medication, she still dreamed about the night demon which breached her mind, mocking and pawing and frightening her.
This night was no different, as the drum of her heartbeat echoed around the room, pulling her deep into sleep. So soft and malleable. Vulnerable. Outside, silhouetted shadows of naked, gnarled branches danced as the wind taunted.
Kate drifted towards an empty blackness.
Her bedroom door slowly opened to the shadows in the hallway; they sucked out the warmth and left a slicing chill, but Kate remained in slumber, despite the room growing colder. A teasing stream of vapour coiled into the air as she breathed.
The door wavered as though a soft breeze had swept past. The shadow in the corridor lurched, grew black.
Quiet vibrations undulated beneath the floorboards, crept across the room like a rolling bank of fog. The metal bed frame rattled slightly and then fell silent.
Kate’s eyes fluttered open, the blurred line between consciousness and sleep somewhat jaded. She half-listened for a moment; her mind tuning into the peripheral. Sounds in the conscience.
A creak spilled into the chilly air.
She lifted her head, gazed at the darkened doorway and shuddered at the cold pressing against her skin with steel fingertips. She could have sworn she’d closed the door. She got up and closed the door against the blackness, then returned to bed. She drew the sheet up over her shoulders and settled back into the pillows. Perhaps tonight would be her first nightmare free sleep.
A stilted, oppressive silence descended like a clammy cloud of vapour, clung to the cold air. The darkness brooded; grew thick with each minute and filled the stairs and hallway as though shrouding something from view.
The bedroom door silently swung wide. Like an invitation.
The dark mass in the hallway slithered forward into the chilled room and oozed towards the bed as though seeking out her warmth.
The trees outside stopped moving. Shadows became still.
The bedcovers moved. The sheet slowly slipped down her body.
The bed creaked. An indentation appeared beside her torso, as though something rested against the mattress.
Kate groaned. Through the fog of sleep, she felt pressure on her back and her eyes immediately opened to the greyness.
A rancid smell instantly drifted up her nostrils and slithered down her throat like a hungry serpent. She retched, opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came; her voice stifled by the entity pressing down on her, pushing her into the bedclothes, forceful, angry.
The pressure on her body increased, sharp nails etched into her back.
Muscles stuttered, but she couldn’t move; nothing would work.
The sound of her heartbeat became loud and fast in her ears, and her stomach churned, full with a fearful, bilious torrent; the sickly swell instantly filling her veins and numbing her body further into submission.
The wardrobe doors rattled.
God, how she wanted to scream, but raw terror clawed at shredded nerves; no sound could get past her swollen larynx. Fear fizzled at the back of her mind, inching through broken synapses to fill her conscience with the sickly torrent.
Sounds crept in; low and brooding. She knew the demon from her nightmares had perched on her back with a glib, Faustian grin. Sometimes she could almost hear it laughing. Sometimes she could hear it breath; the rough rattle of its lungs. She would often smell the fetid scent of death drape over her, smothering her, but she knew it would be over soon; the nightmarish episodes never lasted long...the horror would subside and she would slip into a deep sleep once again.
Something gurgled. The weight shifted on her back.
Lungs depleted and instantly filled with air. The stench receded.
A noise finally seeped into the darkness; her voice broke. She lifted her head, eyes wide as she peered over her shoulder, fearful she might catch a glimpse of a demonic creature, but only a shifting darkness stared back at her.
The pressure gradually eased from her and feeling returned to her limbs. She shot out her arm to grab the lamp on the side table, almost knocked it over. And then, at last, light filled the room, sending the shadows into retreat.
She sat up, eyes adjusting to the glow. She gazed at the door. It lay wide open against the baleful blackness that seemed to be squatting near the stairs. Fear crawled beneath her skin like a parasite.
Had she shut the door? Or had she dreamed she had?
She glanced at the wardrobe. The rattling noises had seemed so real. The sense of the demonic imp crushing her into the bed had seemed real, but she knew they were all in her mind, the soupy residue of near sleep, just gossamer strings of her imaginings and fears.
But curiosity drew her from the bed to the wardrobe. She reached out, heartbeat pulsating in her fingertips as she gripped the handle, momentarily resisting the urge to...
...face her fears...
She opened the doors, sighed at the cluttered space in the wardrobe, cursed. You dreamed it, idiot.
She shut the wardrobe, went to the bathroom to get a glass of water, still muttering.
* * *
Bereft of her warmth, the air in the bedroom quickly cooled again, laced with an arctic hush. The light dimmed.
The wardrobe door slowly swung open.
The stench of rotten flesh oozed into the ether.
A hunched, spidery shadow smothered the wall, entered her bed.
The daemon patiently awaited her return.