‘Good night, God bless,’ Mother whispers to me, her smile a promise that dawn will come. ‘May angels guard you as you sleep.’
She closes the door, and exiles the light from the room. The air is still, the sheets are warm and welcoming, and the whole world beckons me into sleep.
But I shall not sleep.
My mind is alive, ablaze with questions.
What if the angels are not there?
What are they guarding me from?
Why does Mother ask the angels to watch over me? What unseen threat lies in waited, crouched, coiled between the shadows on the wall? What nameless terror could there be in this room with me?
And why would Mother lock me in the room with them?
I lie on my back, staring at the ceiling. Concentrating on the drops of paint above me, each a tiny hill rising from the plaster. Each a worm, a slug, an amoeba, hundreds of them, hanging, dangling, dripping from the roof. If I wait and watch, surely one of them will fall.
The rapping at the window steals my focus, spikes my pulse. My body is paralysed, too numb to move, but I can turn my head to listen to the sound, to the tap-tap-tapping on the glass. I whisper to myself, that it is only the wind, just a tree branch swaying in the breeze, knocking gently against the windowpane. But what if I am wrong? What if it is not the wind, or tree branches? What if they are fingers, gnarled and twisted, pawing, clawing outside my room, pawing, clawing, searching for a way in? And what will they look for, once they are inside?
The sweat stings my forehead, turns the sheets slick with fear. I make myself sit up, feel the cool air on my skin, and look around the room. That gap between the bookshelf and the cupboard: was it always there? I remember there was nothing there but wallpaper, before Mother closed the door and stole the light. Was it always so dark? Is it a black door to nothingness, a ravenous wound in the side of reality, slowly, inevitably, growing bigger?
The shadows dance around the room, over chair and table and drawers. Back and forth, back and forth they spin and pirouette, come together and part. I can’t look at them, can’t stand the way the peer at me with their eyeless faces, the way they laugh at me with silence.
I turn around, lie on my back, away from the room. Wrap my hands around my knees like a baby. And I pray. I pray to the angels to remember me. To watch over me. To be there. To exist. To shield me from the darkness, from the shadows creeping, stalking towards me, their hands outstretched, their fingers cold and black.
The angels do not answer.
I hold my breath, pull the sheets over my head, and I wait for my heart to stop.
(This was inspired by one of Victoria’s writing sessions, on the subject of “Bedtime Stories”. So naturally I took it to the darkest place I could)