You blink, the light burning your irises as your eyes try to acclimatise. It isn’t a harsh light, it is a subtle light; a flickering light; a familiar light.
You roll over onto your side and groan as pains shoot through your body. You feel like you’ve been in a fight; feel like you’ve been beaten to within an inch of your life. You have.
You push yourself up onto all fours, steadying yourself as the dizziness threatens to send you to the floor once more.
You cough and blood spatters the floor underneath you; the metallic taste causing you to retch.
With care, you push yourself back on your haunches and allow yourself to take stock of your surroundings.
You are back in the dungeons of my mind once more. Back in the familiar corridor. Back in a place of safety, with its cold, dank walls and stone floor; with its oil filled lanterns and its array of closed doors.
You look down at your shirt and see a multitude of holes; holes with charred edges. You lift your shirt up and find your torso is covered in angry red welts; the source of your pain. At the centre of each is what looks like a black hole.
Your breath held, you raise your hand and tentatively touch one of the holes. It is solid; hard; scabbed. You lower you shirt to find the holes lining up perfectly with the wounds on your body. Synapses start firing.
Your mind flashes to images of your bedroom; the mirror; the backwards alphabet; the wolf; the woods; the zombies; the camp; the moon; the smell of blood; the taste of flesh; and the gunshots. You shudder as you feel the bullets hit you again. How have you got back here? How indeed?
You push yourself to your feet and turn to head back out the way you came in; enough is enough. But then you hear it. From somewhere behind you, echoes the soft melancholy sounds of a harp.
You turn around and look down the corridor, but you don’t see any new doors. You turn back again, telling yourself to ignore it; willing yourself onwards to daylight, to freedom. But, as you take a step, the strains of the harp pluck at you heartstrings once again.
You turn and walk back down the corridor, passed the door you have just woken up in front of. You reach you hand out to touch the wall – cold, wet, slimy. You shudder again, but keep your hand there as you walk, allowing your fingers to trace its contours, searching for imperfections.
The texture changes and you look up – wallpaper. What the..? You place both hands on the wall, running them along the surface until you find a gap. You dig your nails into the gap, tearing at the paper, ripping it from the wall.
You stand back and stare. An old oak panelled door, with a polished brass knob, faces you; the only thing standing between you and the music beyond.
The haunting sound draws you on and you grasp the doorknob and turn. The door swings open without a sound, revealing a hallway beyond. You stand away from the doorway, determined to stay on this side of the door this time.
The hallway is oak panelled; polished and shining; a navy blue carpet running down the centre and continuing up the staircase to the first landing. A huge stained glass window casts a kaleidoscope of colour onto the carpet and rainbows shimmering up the wood panelled walls.
The sound of laughter and running footsteps catches your attention and you look to your left. There is a doorway, but from where you are standing you can’t see inside the room. You shift over to the right and lean on the doorframe, trying to angle your view without crossing the threshold.
It is then that you notice the music has stopped.
The laughter sounds again; a child’s laughter; a boy’s laughter. You lean a bit further in and see a young boy, about 5 or 6, sitting cross legged in the room. You watch and notice how he is moving his hands and nodding his head and, every so often, laughing. It is as though he is playing with someone, but you cannot see who.
You clear your throat and the boy stops what he is doing. You hold your breath and wait. Sure enough, curiosity having got the better of him, the young boy appears in the doorway. He has tousled blonde hair and brown eyes; freckles dusting his pale skin. He is wearing a shirt and three quarter length trousers; his feet wrapped in outdoor boots, even though he is indoors. He watches you and then looks behind him before bursting out laughing again and running up the stairs to the first landing; the light from the window casting him in an ethereal glow.
He stops there and turns. You feel your heart lurch as he beckons for you to follow him. You hesitate; past experience finally making you think before you act. But he is insistent. He places the index finger of his other hand to his lips and beckons you forward again.
You obey, crossing the hallway on your tiptoes. You pause a moment and decide to see who he was playing with. The room is empty; the fire burning in the stone fireplace; family photos lining the mantelpiece.
You hear the harp again – soft, melodic, enchanting, and hypnotising – and it draws you back to the stairway. The boy is gone. You climb the stairs, following the curve round until you step onto the second landing. The landing turns into a hallway; a hallway lined with doors; closed doors, except for one.
Right at the end, facing you, a door stands ajar. It is from this open doorway that the music drifts. You tiptoe down the corridor, not wanting to disturb whoever may be about. When you reach the door, you push it open and a gust of wind rushes passed you. You take a step inside the room and stop, a shiver running down your spine.
Moth-eaten nets billow in the wind from the broken window panes. Sunlight streams through the ceiling where the plaster has fallen and the rafters are bare. The wooden floor, once polished and shining, is now scuffed and broken. You walk further into the room and you see the harp; forlorn and forgotten in the corner, its strings having given up a long time ago. A rocking horse rocks back and forth before the window, lost and found as the net curtains swirl around it.
In the centre of the room stands a four poster bed, its emerald velvet drapes laden with dust. You step forward and reach out; you can’t help yourself. Taking hold of one of the heavy curtains, you pull it to one side. A scream catches in your throat as the dust motes settle and you see what the drapes have been protecting.
The frail body makes barely a ripple in the bedding, his arms laid on top of covers that were once drawn up to keep him warm. The flesh, long since rotted away, has left its indelible mark on the fabric. His skull, so small against the huge comforter, is surrounded by a halo of sandy blonde hair.
You let the curtain drop, a sob catching in your throat, tears rimming your eyes, and stumble back towards the door. You lean against the frame to compose yourself. You look up and your heart skips a beat, as you feel that hollow feeling start in the pit of your stomach.
The beautiful ornate corridor is no more. The pigeons are flying in and out of the skeletal roof; the thick carpet now rotten and threadbare; the floorboards scarce.
You stumble forwards. You have to get out of here. You reach the top of the stairs and as your foot connects with a bare board, it collapses. You reach out and grasp the bannister, just in time to see the floorboard crash through the ceiling into the room below. Your heart thudding in your chest, you pick your way down the stairs, the wobbly bannisters your only support.
As you reach the bottom, you see that the front door is wide open and, beyond it, you see freedom – the real world. Your fear forgotten, relief flooding your veins, you run the last few steps and burst through the door into the sunlight. You turn your face to the sun, welcoming its warmth, but it doesn’t come.
You open your eyes and find yourself back in the dungeon corridor. You turn around to find the door closed, the wallpaper covering it – unbroken – and the faint melodic strains of the harp coming from beyond.
There is no escape from the recesses of my mind. Not yet. Not until I set you free.
May fear protect you when the darkness comes.
Til next time.