A visitation from the Old Hag

Tuesday, 14 September

Another postcard from Leonard arrived this morning. The picture on the front is Ivan Albright's The Picture of Dorian Gray and the message on the reverse includes a quotation from the novel of the same title by Oscar Wilde:

‘“I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself.” Thank you for your friendship and take care, my absorbing muse...’

God bless him for trying to make me feel better. I showed the postcard to Alex because transparency is the only way that Alex will learn that there is nothing sinister going on between Leonard and I. Speaking of Alex, we had a long and exhaustive conversation on Saturday evening about our future together and we have agreed to put past disagreements behind us and make a fresh start. Alex has promised that he will be supportive of both my postgraduate studies and my work with Leonard and I in turn agreed that I will overcome my fear of leaving the flat and we will socialise more often as a couple. There will be no poor excuses for staying at home from this point onwards. 

I was confident that things were improving between us and I hoped that this might bring an end to my recent troubles, but I had another disturbing dream last night that has called my optimism into doubt. Perhaps my recent argument with Alex has affected me more profoundly than I realise and the stress of our confrontation has triggered these nightmares once again, but, whatever the cause, I brewed a cup of Leonard’s Melissa Tea at home this morning and the flat smelled like the workroom at Elmfield House for a short while, which I hope has helped to fumigate the place of these terrible things.

The events of last night went as follows. Alex arrived home from work in a foul mood and he complained that his day had been extremely stressful, so he went to bed early and I followed him to bed about an hour later. I locked the front and back doors and all the windows in the house but, since it had been an exceptionally hot day and the air in the bedroom was stiflingly warm, I left the bedroom window on the latch and opened the curtains a little to allow a cool breeze to come into the room. I was desperately tired but I had been reading The Omega Course and my mind was occupied with all kinds of wildly inventive ideas, so I lay awake contemplating these fantastical schemes until I eventually fell asleep.

I remember the subsequent dream vividly. I was lying on my back in bed, the room was in semi-darkness and Alex was sound asleep next to me. I could hear the hum of the alarm clock on the bedside cabinet and everything seemed so incredibly lucid that for a second I thought that I was awake, but upon attempting to move my arms I realised that I was unable to lift them and I was actually in a deep dream-like state. The normality of the scene was reassuring, but within a matter of seconds I realised that something was deeply amiss. I was seized by the unsettling feeling that I was being watched by a presence somewhere in the room and I remember expecting a person to step out of the shadows - Amber maybe, or Leonard - but it was not a familiar presence, nor was it an entirely friendly one. In fact I recall that the escalating air of unpleasantness and menace that was building in the room unnerved me to the point that I tried to rouse myself from my sleep in order to prevent the scene from playing out any further.

My attention was drawn to a strange noise coming from the landing outside the bedroom; it was a soft, muffled noise and not dissimilar to the sound of shuffling feet. Although I reassured myself that I was dreaming and safe from actual physical harm, the thought that we had a burglar was terrifying and my heart began to race. I knew that I could not wake Alex without alerting the intruder to our whereabouts in the house and so I lay silently in bed, staring transfixed into the shadows at the foot of the bed and watching the half-opened door with baited breath. 

The shuffling noise on the landing grew louder, stopping intermittently and then progressing nearer until the sound finally reached the bedroom door. It stopped for a second and then, to my horror, through the door came a tall, dark shape. My eyes struggled to focus on it at first, but it looked like the shadowy outline of an exceptionally thin person who was hunched over quite unnaturally. I noticed how the shape melted into the gloomy recesses of the back wall and so I calmly reassured myself that I had mistaken a simple trick of the light for a ghostly apparition, but when the shape began to move once again I realised that it was not a shadow and that a solid and tangible creature was moving around in the darkness at the far end of the room. I then caught sight of what looked like an elbow and a thin arm swinging in an oddly disjointed fashion like the loose limb of a marionette puppet and the shock of it caused me to scream, but my tongue blocked the sound from escaping and my throat was so tight that only a barely audible whistle squeaked out. 

I watched, in a mute silence, as the grotesque silhouette shuffled further into the room where it settled, still and unmoving, at the bottom of the bed for sufficient time to allow me to take stock of its appearance and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I caught sight of details on its body which confirmed that this was no trick of the light; its head was in shadow but its torso was wrapped in a grey gauze-like material that hung loosely from its shoulders and I could see the outline of an emaciated human ribcage underneath. I closed my eyes for a second, hoping that I could erase the gaunt figure from my dream, but when I opened them again it appeared to have moved even closer to the foot of the bed. I took in a deep breath and tried to scream once again, but the sound evaporated silently into the air as it left my throat. I even tried to kick out at it with my feet but I was completely paralysed and unable to move my legs.

Perhaps sensing my distress, the figure seemed to become agitated at that point and it swayed gently from side to side several times and then lurched forward. It was then that I saw its face. I honestly cannot begin to tell you how distressing that moment was. My most perverse nightmares could not have birthed something so unspeakably repulsive and even now recalling its appearance sets my stomach on edge. It had the features of a hideous old woman; the skin on her face was tight and shiny and the muscles were deeply sunken into the bones of her face to give the same emaciated effect as severe burn marks. She had wispy patches of grey hair on her head and there were large bald patches and deep lesions on her scalp that looked terribly sore. Her eyes were unnaturally large with a stony-grey sheen like polished marble and since there was no pupil I could only determine the direction in which she was looking from the position of her head. And, most disturbingly, I recall that her eyes shone, not in the sense that they had any internal light of their own but her eyes caught the occasional shaft of light coming into the room from the street outside and they shone out like cat’s eyes into the darkness of the room.  

My conscious mind was screaming at me to wake up from the dream but, as hideous as she looked, I was physically unable to look away from her. Then I felt a heavy weight at my feet and I realised that she was making contact with the mattress. I watched, horrified, as she climbed very slowly and with great difficulty onto the bed as though her legs did not accord her a great amount of strength. Each movement was painfully slow, which made the whole experience even more distressing. I tried to draw my legs up and away from her but I was unable to move them as my entire body was paralysed and when she made contact with my right ankle the muscles in my right leg spasmed in response. I could feel her touch! Waves of nausea washed over me and when my focus began to blur I remember reassuring myself, calmly and deliberately, that it was only a dream, but in truth I feared that I would black out at any second and I desperately wanted to remain conscious in order to witness what was going to happen to me. 

Then, through the thickening fog of panic that was building around me, I watched as she began making sharp and reptilian-like advances towards me, dragging herself along and pulling the bedclothes down with the long nails of each hand that she placed on the bed. She seemed to struggle to make progress at first as though she was climbing a slippery vertical wall, but then the speed of her movements quickened and before I knew it she had dragged herself up the length of my body and nestled her entire weight on my chest. The cold and clammy soles of her bare feet were flat upon my chest and she squatted in a tight ball, curving her spine and leaning her weight forwards so that she could peer down at me with her luminescent eyes.

I closed my eyes and turned my head to the side and pressed it into the pillow to block out the sight of her, but I could feel her heavy weight rising and falling when I tried to breathe. And she just sat there pressing down, all the time pressing. An intense pain radiated outwards from my chest and into my spine, into my neck and eventually into the top of my head as it became increasingly harder to breathe. After a minute or so I opened my eyes and glanced upwards to steal a glimpse of her and I saw that her face was extremely close to mine and her mouth was stretched wide open in a silent scream. That image has burned itself into my memory, never to be forgotten. The inside of her mouth was jet black and it was filled with a thick, black viscous liquid like a gaping wound and she had one row of sharp needle-like teeth. Her breath was so incredibly foul that my stomach heaved upon smelling it and I started to choke and gasp for air and then, as I felt the bile burn painfully in my throat, I realised that this was not a dream and I was actually fully awake.

The shock of this realisation sparked a surge of energy that burst throughout my entire body and I suddenly regained the use of my limbs. I began gasping for breath and trying to scream and I dug my heels into the mattress, pushing as hard as I could against her weight. Then, as I pushed harder and harder, there was a sudden release and I shot fully upright in bed. Alex jumped up and shouted out, which caused me to scream out loud for first time throughout the entire ordeal. He put his hand out of the bedclothes, took hold of my arm and asked what was wrong. I searched around the room - if I could see anyone or anything unusual then there was not a chance that I would let him go back to sleep. But the room was empty. 

I told Alex that I'd had a nightmare, to which he huffed, gave a lazy smile and then extended his arms out to me. I was pleased that he had reacted in this way and he didn't complain or ridicule me as usual, so I lay back down and wrapped myself around him, making sure that the bedcovers were pulled tightly around my head.

I didn’t get much sleep last night. Even though I realise that dreams can be compellingly realistic at times, I had an agonising pain in my chest throughout the remainder of the night and when I closed my eyes I could still hear the sound of the audible bang that had echoed around the bedroom walls when the woman hit the floor.