Dark jagged teeth snatch at the air. People are screaming. She is going to die. It has all been for nothing. All she can see is a swirling mass of thick black fog and a man reaching out to save her. But she can’t reach his hand. The blackness swallows her. She screams without sound.
Janey bolted upright and stared at the park.
She was bathed in sweat, dirt and leaves. She rubbed her eyes and looked at her hands. They were caked in mud. Her knees were dirty too. What had she been doing in her sleep? Her arms ached and her fingers were sore. The remnants of the nightmare faded away before she could mould them into a memory. It had been a long time since she’d had a bad dream and it frightened her.
When she was eight her parents took her to see a dream therapist. They’d hooked her up to a machine, attached probes and wires to her head and recorded her sleep activity through the night. Janey had the same dream she always had, a nightmare of dark clouds and teeth that chased her through a grey wilderness. She never grew accustomed to them but accepted that was the way things were.
Her memories of those few days in the sleep lab were hazy at best but she did remember one thing. One morning a doctor took her parents into another room while a nurse removed the wires from Janey’s head. She was told to sit quietly until her parents returned. She had comics and colouring books but they failed to hold her interest. With no one around to stop her, Janey explored the strange hospital, not that anyone called it that. The nurses were called therapists or consultants, and the hospital was called a sleep lab.
Even at such a young age Janey wasn’t stupid. She knew something was wrong. Her parents had a strange look in their eyes, like they were seeing their daughter for the first time, and they didn’t like what they saw. Janey didn’t want to be left alone. She wanted to go home. The room next door was dark and cold. Computer screens sat on a desk next to a window. Janey walked back to the bedroom and saw her reflection in the mirror.
She didn’t like the strange mirror window. It felt like a lie. Why hadn’t they told her they could see her all night? Alone and frightened with strange people was bad enough, but to be told it was just a mirror was wrong.
Janey watched a video of her bed. She giggled when she saw herself laying on her back in the dark. She was on TV. It was like being famous. The clock in the corner of the screen said 01:27. Janey was fascinated at how she was staring in her own mini-movie. At 01:33 she stood up and scrambled to the end of the bed. She was pointing to something. Janey couldn’t see anything on the screen.
It was creepy watching herself doing things she didn’t remember.
A second later she was scratching around on the bare floor with her hands. All the time looking over her shoulder at nothing. Janey frowned. What was her on-screen double looking at? The wires from the machine stretched out behind her double as she roamed across the floor, scratching and scraping. At 01:58 her double was back on the bed asleep.
Janey didn’t understand. Why were they filming her? Her parents said it was just a test to see how good she was at being asleep. It didn’t look like she had passed the test. And that meant no treat.
At 02:48 her on-screen double was up again. This time crouched at the end of the bed, one arm reaching out, fingers grasping for something that wasn’t there. This scared Janey. Who or what was she tying to reach? Why didn’t she remember any of it?
A few minutes later her double opened her mouth as if screaming. Her face was screwed up in agony. Then it was all over. Her double flopped backward onto the bed and lay still. Janey pressed a Forward x 4 button on the machine and the clock sped up. Lights came on at 08:30 and a nurse entered with a glass of water. Janey remembered that part. She had been very thirsty.
When she heard voices she hurried back to the room, hopped on the bed and flipped open a comic book. A woman in a dark suit came in with her parents. Janey asked if she had passed the test. She never forgot the look her parents exchanged. A look of fear. They told her she had been a good girl and would be stopping at the toy store on the way home.
Janey asked if she had stayed in bed all night long, because usually she got up in the middle of the night when she had a bad dream. The strict looking nurse in the suit said she’d been as good as gold, slept like a log all night long. Her parents nodded along.
That was the first time Janey felt the itchy veil of the jibba-jabba.
Janey stared down at her dirty hands. They looked as if she had been digging. Kneeling down and rooting around in the mud. Just like she had seen her on-screen double do in the room at the sleep lab. Why would she suddenly perform the exact same actions years later? Janey had learnt that so many things in life were connected, even in the smallest ways.
Was there something here in the park that connected with her bad dreams as a child?
There was no way of finding out. Janey had to accept that if she was meant to find out, she would do so in good time. Since meeting Mojo she had learnt that coincidence was poor excuse for not knowing the truth.
She missed her friend. The day before she had kept busy to avoid thinking about him. Alone in the park her thoughts turned to face her grief. With dirty fingers she brushed aside her tears. The cold hollow sensation in her chest burned deep and hard. She longed to see Mojo stroll through the crowds, a sly smile on his face, sunlight catching in his golden eyes.
A sob caught in her throat. She couldn’t hold back the pain.
Janey curled into a ball next to a gnarled oak root and wept.
23. The Bridge.
An hour later Janey felt better. Not great but less emotional. She borrowed a denim skirt and ugly violent green vest top from one of the girls at the main camp. Hippy students with back packs and dreadlocks. Janey’s clothes were more than just dirty, they were shredded and torn. She bathed her face and hands with water, sparing some to drink.
Janey hung back from the crowd when the holes were discovered. Lee and Colin examined them and told people to move away.
Colin puked on the grass.
“Jesus, chief, what could have done that?” Colin said.
“Did you see those faces?” asked Lee. “Dozens of them without skulls, just the skin.”
“Like rubber masks,” Colin said. “This is fucked up, chief. Seriously. The chasms and all that stuff, I can live with but this… We’re in big trouble if this is how they are getting to us.”
Janey picked at the dirt under finger nails. She didn’t want to consider how involved she had been with the holes. What had she unleashed by digging them? Why had she done it?
“Can you get a spade and fill it in?” Lee said to Colin.
“Shouldn’t we…you know?”
“No. I don’t think anyone’s in the right frame of mind to see bits of their loved ones dug up and spread across the grass. Fill it in.”
Janey walked away. She couldn’t handle the idea of being a catalyst for the death of innocent people. She could hear Lee and Colin discuss the holes and what they would do if the things came back. Colin was more concerned with their lack of water. Without a rescue there wouldn’t be enough water to go around beyond the following day.
Colin asked for volunteers to make a bridge that would span the chasm between the park and a corner shop. Before she knew what she was doing, Janey raised her hand and offered to help. She couldn’t bring herself to admit she had dug out the holes or remember doing it, but she wanted redemption for her actions.
It was hard work. A small group gathered ladders and broke apart park benches. By lunch time they had the main structure of the bridge in place. They lashed together anything they could find with hose pipe and rope from the park keepers shed. It looked safe enough but someone would have to test it. Janey was the smallest person there and before anyone could argue she climbed over the railings and stepped out onto the bridge.
It creaked and Janey held her breath. Lengths of wood flexed and strained but they held together. Half way across she stopped and glanced back at the bridge building crew. They looked more nervous than Janey felt. Below the chasm fell away into darkness. She didn’t suffer from vertigo but the height and precarious nature of the bridge made her feel faint.
When she stepped onto the concrete step of the corner shop the bridge builders cheered. She felt safe inside the dark cool shop. She pulled open a fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. She glugged the still cool water until it ran over her chin. The shop smelled of wood and stale air. At least above concrete there would be no holes dug by her or anything else.
Outside she met Colin who slid past her and into the shop. He appeared moments later with a shrink wrapped pack of bottled water. Six bottles. It wasn’t much but it was a start. Janey estimated it would take them the rest of the afternoon to ferry supplies to the park.
“We’d best go one at a time,” Colin said.
Janey nodded and took the water.
Half way across a gust of air rocked the bridge. Janey glanced around. The trees in the park were still. Something groaned deep in the chasm. Janey tried to ignore how vulnerable she was on the flimsy bridge and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Several feet from the railings Janey lost her balance when the bridge shook.
The pack of water slipped from her hands and toppled into the void. She glanced back at Colin on the step of the corner shop. He waved her on and held up his own pack of water. She could come back for more. Angry at losing her precious supplies Janey looked at the bridge builders. Something was wrong. They weren’t staring at her but at something behind her.
Janey twisted around. A plume of black fog had risen out of the hole like a snake leaving its nest. It coiled in the air and lunged at Colin. He scrambled up the step and dropped his cargo when the fog grabbed his legs. An arm broke away from the fog and smashed against the shop window. Shards of glass twinkled in the sunlight as they erupted and fell into the crevice.
Colin shook his head when Janey moved back to the shop.
In the park people screamed. The bridge builders yelled for her to run.
“Get off the bridge!” She saw Lee climbing the fence. He held out his hand. Janey took a step toward him. “That’s it. A little more. You’re almost there.”
The nightmare she had tried to remember returned with a jolt.
She concentrated on Lee’s voice and his outstretched hand.
When they were inches apart Lee lunged and grabbed her hand.
A seething dark mass rose out of the darkness beside the bridge. It twitched in the air and blocked out the sunlight.
Janey was stunned. All she could do was stare at the thing that would kill her. In the fog she saw dark jagged teeth twitching and snapping. Janey knew she was going to die. Tears ran down her cheeks. Her legs felt like jelly. The fog wrapped around the bridge as if watching Janey with curiosity rather than menace. Lee gripped her hand but it wasn’t enough to save her.
The memory of her young on-screen double suddenly made sense. She had clung to the end of the bed and reached out for an invisible hand. How could a dream or nightmare become a reality? Her parents knew something bad was happening but no one told her what.
The darkness crashed onto the bridge. Sections of bench and ladders wrenched free and dropped away. Hose pipe stretched under the pressure. The fog closed in around Janey until she could barely see Lee’s face. He heaved and for a second Janey thought she would escape. She saw Lee smile. They were going to make it.
Then everything went dark.
The bridge shook and Lee’s hand slipped from hers.
Janey screamed without sound as the fog engulfed her.
Her hand grasped at the air for a second then the fog took her down.
To be continued…
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 4 photos as a prompt.
Parts 1 – 10 can be found on my Short Fiction page under Arcane Insane.
This section took about 2 hours to write, and is a shade under 2,300 words.
I was hoping to get this completed before NaNoWriMo starts on November 1st but I’m not so sure now. I don’t want to rush it. I’d rather get there the right way. I may have to leave the ending until the start of December, for which I offer apologies, dear blog reader. But we still have time, so keep an eye on those tracks!
That said this is the last bit where Janey’s story overlaps with the characters from Ground Fall.