Andy Rigley (Nottingham Trent University, UK)
I think I was dreaming about meteors, or the Moon. It’s hard to tell now I’m awake. It’s hard to tell, now that I’m staring into what I think is the ceiling that is too dark to be the ceiling. It’s hard to tell if the high-pitched, gurgling scream I just heard was then, or just now.
I stink. That middle of the night toxic sweet sweat smell, and my pillow won’t let my hair go as I try to sit up. A light sweeps across the wall and reflects off the Gothic mirror, into my face, and my hair is free and I sit up.
I swing my legs round but slip out of the bed and fall into a pale green patch where the alarm clock is trying to tell me it’s 4:30 AM. I tilt the clock towards me and I feel dizzy. Dislocated and floating an inch above the bedroom carpet that used to feel soft, but now, just doesn’t feel.
I can’t see, but I can hear. There’s a house alarm, a dog barking. Ebbs and flows on a breeze through the window I left open so that I wouldn’t sweat a toxic sweat.
I reach out to open the curtains, but I can’t feel anything, my hands must be waving just in front of them. I pick up my mobile phone that lies in the dull green glow of the clock, and flick the screen open with my thumb.
I turn the phone to the window and, with my other hand I reach out. The phone blinks off and I fail, again, to open the curtains. I try to flick the screen closed then open, but my thumb slides nowhere so I move back the clock and try again.
In the light of the clock, I open my phone.
In the light of the phone, I open one curtain.
The sound of the alarm and the dog become louder, more constant.
Outside is nothing. It’s like someone unstitched a 4:30 dawn from the earth and left nothing in the gap in between. The street lights are out. A power cut. Again. Over the road that I can’t see, there’s a tiny blue dot that flashes and illuminates the white box of the alarm that screeches intermittently. The dog barks.
Then I hear the screams that I heard while I was trying to decide if they were screams or not.
I rush out of the bedroom using the light from my mobile. I bang my elbows on the door-frame as it illuminates past me in a flash. I stub my toe on a thick book as it illuminates past me. Then I fall. For as long as it takes me to be lying face down in my hallway, I fall. I don’t feel the steps, I just hit the patterned laminate and stare at it rippling in the glow of the phone that’s landed close to my face. I feel around my body for pain but, in the dark, I feel none. I reach up to my face, and feel pain in my cheek. In my head I say ah crap. I don’t need to say it out loud. No one can hear me.
I’m reaching, blundering, flailing, sweeping my phone, arching, grasping. I’m doing all those things until I find the torch that I left on the hall table after the last power cut. In my head, I say thank god. I don’t need to say it out loud. He can’t hear me. Using the phone’s light, I twist the blue plastic case of the torch and a bubble of light surrounds me.
The bubble of light contains me, my front door, my coat stand, my backpack, some newspapers and a stuffed snake draught excluder that excludes the draft.
I turn around to check the hall and my bubble of light contains the stair rods, a picture of Snowdon, a cobweb and a pair of leather boots. I can feel a draught from behind me that licks the backs of my ankles like wet fog.
I hear the scream again. Only this time, it’s more of a muffled yelp.
I turn on the hall lights. They don’t turn on. I realise my mistake.
Outside is still nothing. I step into it and I feel that same dislocation I felt in my bedroom. As I walk down my path to where the road should be, I can’t feel the stones. I shine the torch down and rub my bare feet into the white chips that scratch as they push up between my toes.
From the darkness, I hear a cry. “Over here!”
There’s a patch of light along the road like a cone that’s been clipped straight on one side, and I follow it, stepping on the damp concrete, over the curb, onto the soft tarmac.
“Where are you?” I shout.
I can smell petrol and hot metal and something like struck flint. As I reach the point where the light has nothing behind it, I shine my torch down onto a motorbike. A scooter with the handlebars all bent, the plastic fairing snapped and pressed into the road.
“Man that was close,” the voice shouts.
“Where are you?” I shout back.
“Here. Over here man. Wow.”
I shine my torch over black tarmac and follow the voice.
“You okay?” I shout.
The dog barks.
“Yeah, man, over here. Wow that was…”
My torch illuminates a red round wet patch with a white glistening crescent line that screams.
I pull my hands to my face and mumble. “Oh, god.”
“Thought I was a goner there,” the voice says.
“Oh Christ no,” I say, and as I shine my torch back down again there’s something like a bubbling screaming frothing coming from the thing below me. I hunch down, my torch full onto the thing that looks like it could be a face that’s bubbling screaming frothing.
“You’ll be okay,” I say.
I stand up and open my phone.
“Could be I didn’t see a pothole or something,” the voice says, laughing. “Well. Could’ve been worse.” Another laugh.
I dial 999 then bend back down.
An eye stares back at me the same as I’m staring back at it. Wide. White. Pain. Disbelief. Regret. Young.
“You’re gonna be okay,” I say, thinking I should reach out and touch the thing that might have been a face but is now just sighing.
I stand up. “Come on,” I shout at the phone. “Come On.”
“Man. Hope my bike’s okay. I gotta be at work in an hour.”
I tell the man on the phone that there’s been an accident. In the dark. That all the lights are out and that a kid has crashed and that he’s bad.
“No need for an ambulance, man. I’m fine.”
I keep the torch pointed at my feet so that I feel the floor. So that I feel okay.
Then I dare sweep it one more time across the kid and he sighs from the back of his throat and his hand is wiping real slow at his hair that sticks down on his scalp. In the light, I can see he’s nearly gone.
The dog barks and I shine my torch in its direction.
The alarm stops screeching.
I turn off my torch.
“Close one that, but I’m gonna be just fine,” the voice calls out.
The street lights come back on.
Andy Rigley has a Certificate in Creative Writing from Nottingham University. He is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. He has been published in anthologies including Leaf Books, Slingink and Cazart, as well as winning and coming second in Writers’ Forum Magazine. He has completed both an adult and a children’s novel. When not reading, writing or studying, Andy can be found (or not!) wandering the hills around Derbyshire or at his website.