His eyes flew open, just as the paralysing nightmare was reaching its terrifying climax. He shut his eyes; a feeble attempt at blocking the horrific images which bled into his every thought. It was dark, pitch black in his miniscule bedroom, rendering him useless as claustrophobia threatened to smother him. Helplessly he reached for the heavy cover engulfing him, desperately trying to uncover himself. To his horror, his hands met not the woollen material of a blanket, but the moist surface of dirt and leaves. Only now did he realise that his entire body was cocooned in a mess of rotting detritus. He leapt to his feet, but his hands were covered in sweat, and were futile in trying to rid himself of the debris.
This sudden commotion awoke the forest in which he now realised he stood. Birds scattered from the nearby trees, and ascended powerfully into the air, silhouetted against the eerie glow of the full moon. As the forest fell silent once more, he heard the faint whimpering of some sort of animal drifting from behind him. He turned warily, unaware of what he may find as he made his way towards the sound. He approached, with great caution, what appeared to be a pile of abandoned rags, on the realisation that it was from this that the sounds were emanating. He sank to his knees beside the material and unveiled the creature.
Beneath, there lay a woman. Her body was contorted into an unnatural position, her head seemingly disconnected from her torso. Her hair was matted with dried blood and covering her naked body were horrific puncture wounds. His bloodcurdling scream echoed in the darkness, yet his will to run was overshadowed by his numbness at the discovery. He froze, as the girl’s eyes quivered, and then focused on his. Her face remained perfectly still, yet the terror in her eyes revealed more than any expression. He shrank back in horror, recognising those ice blue eyes from the nightmare he thought he had escaped. Of course, in his mind, her eyes had been pleading with him, as she was mauled by the grotesque monster, rather than the terrified and condemning expression which she now bore. Fighting his instinct to run, he returned tentatively to the body. Her eyes were firmly shut. He reached out with trembling fingers and delicately caressed her white cheek. Feeling the freezing surface, he pulled his hand sharply back. She was definitely dead and clearly had been for some time.
He stumbled away, tripping over branches and thick roots that littered the forest floor. His heart was pounding; he was confused, and completely lost in the unfamiliar surroundings. He could remember nothing: who he was, what he was doing here, how had he ended up completely alone in this isolated territory. What’s more, there was a corpse lying in front of him. A corpse he knew nothing about, other than what he had seen in his nightmare. He had seen the huge, hideous monster flinging her from side to side like a rag doll, whilst he, the coward that he was, watched from a distance, as she begged him wordlessly for his aid.
He was suddenly distracted from the vision by a sound in the distance. He crouched down low to the floor, steadying his rapid breathing in an attempt to decipher the sound. He whipped his head sharply to the side, in response to another snap from behind him. Footsteps? Another sound, to his left now; the crunch of crumpled leaves. Terror seized him, if this was a person, they would never believe his dubious and irrational explanation of events. They would assume he was a murderer, rather than accept his innocence. They would mistake his panicked state for guilt, instead of recognising he was in shock. With this realisation, his breathing accelerated once more, and his heart thumped loudly against his chest. He stopped. The sound emerged from behind him once again. But it was faster, and more rhythmic – like running. A new thought hit him. One infinitely more chilling and terrifying than merely being caught by a fellow human. He took a few cautious steps backwards, frantically scanning the line of trees before him. He let out a terrified cry as he tripped over an exposed root and bolted from the clearing, desperately trying to escape from the monster.
He was standing in the corner of a darkened room, where a bed dominated the small space. He surveyed his surroundings, deeply confused about what was happening. He edged away nervously as the door swung slowly open, the hinges squeaking eerily as it did. He gasped in horror, as the monster crept around the door. It didn’t acknowledge him, as focused as it was on the sleeping figure huddled unsuspectingly on the bed. The monster wielded a knife, and stepped towards the sleeping woman with malicious intent. It stood towering above her, a wry smile etched across its hideous face. It slowly lifted the knife, examining the blade intently. Reaching out with a malformed, grotesque hand, it lightly stroked her face. She awoke with a start, and her gaze rose up its huge frame, until she was staring directly into its sinister, black eyes. As it slowly brought the knife to her exposed throat, its face spread into a terrifying grin. The woman’s eyes grew wild, and she let out a bloodcurdling shriek of terror….
His scream awoke the still forest and he sat bolt upright. He wiped a clammy palm against his forehead; disorientated by the vividness of the most recent nightmare. Having spent the night obsessing over the monster, he had begun to wonder if his imagination had run wild, and it wasn’t all that monstrous. But no – it absolutely was. The image of the grotesque being emanated into his every thought, and he was consumed with paralysing fear. All he imagined were the evil, dark eyes fixed on him, as it lurked menacingly behind him, shrouded by trees in the dim morning light, waiting for its moment to ambush him. With this thought, he struggled to his feet, glancing sideways nervously. He spotted a lake in the distance as he did so and began to make his way swiftly towards it.
In his haste to reach the welcoming water he failed to notice a protruding tree root, and stumbled, his head glancing off an angular rock. He lay there for some time, dazed by the blow. Eyeing the water meaningfully, he attempted to get to his feet but was overwhelmed by another vision. As the image became clearer, he gasped in shock, unable to contemplate what he was seeing.
He saw himself walking down a dimly lit hallway, stealing cautiously towards a closed door. The glint of a knife could be seen, and he waited for the terrifying monster to appear. Yet as the vision of him reached the door, he realised that it was he who carried the knife subtly against his side. Muffled screeches and rhythmic banging were emanating from the room, yet the man in the vision failed to respond to any of the startling sounds. He pulled a key from his shirt, and turned it slowly in the lock. He then reached up and slid the many bolts across, leaving the door completely unlocked.
As he grabbed the doorknob, the door suddenly flung open, and a woman emerged, screaming manically between the feral snarls which erupted from her. She lunged at the man, but he was mechanical in his response, and plunged the knife into her chest. Leaving her without a second glance on the floor, he reached into his pocket, and produced an aged photograph. The picture showed the man, standing next to the woman he had just slaughtered, on their wedding day.
The man in the forest gasped. He fell to his knees in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. What did this mean? Before he had time to recover, he was thrown back into another vision. He saw himself once more, but in a different location. He was sitting on a park bench, watching a woman walking through the field. He was forced to look on in horror as she came unsuspectingly closer, as he gripped a knife tightly beneath his coat. The view shifted once more, and he saw another woman, again with a depiction of himself walking discreetly behind her. The image changed again and again, each showing him eyeing a different woman meaningfully. It was the final image which shocked him the most. He hadn’t realised that throughout the various images the view of himself had been changing. Not only growing older, but uglier, with harder features; becoming increasingly grotesque.
In the forest, the man crawled painfully to the shore of the lake, blinded by the images which clouded his vision. On reaching the water’s edge, he splashed water frantically on his face, trying in vain to rid himself of the horrific pictures in his head. As the ripples radiated from where he was laid, the water became flat and calm once more. He lifted his head, and stared at his reflection. On seeing himself, he was filled with a new vigour. He remembered everything, acknowledging who he was, and accepting what he had become. A wry smile etched across his face and, in the water opposite, the monster smiled back.