It corners me on the edge of the cliff. The green grass, wet with dew that shimmers eerily in the gray light of dawn, suddenly gives way to a sheer drop. The base of the cliff vanishes beneath the surface of glistening ocean waves, water reflecting back the beauty of the rising sun.
I can feel its eyes watching me, hear its sharp breath, even as the rushing of blood in my ears drowns out the sound of my own heartbeat. On my shoulders I can feel the weight of my fear and the hot, suffocating darkness that follows wherever the thing that has chased me goes. I’m afraid to turn and face it, but the cliff offers only one other option.
“Look at me,” it growls. Its voice is like gravel striking hollow steel pipes. It sends a shiver down my spine, a frozen wave of fear.
I don’t want to look, so I glance down at my dew-soaked sneakers standing dangerously close to the edge. If I take only one step I will fall. I want to jump, but fear has made me far too heavy, as if to render me motionless.
“Now!” It has grown tired of my indecision. The voice frightens me—startles me—and I turn around.
Its body is thin, wasted, clothed in black robes torn to shreds that flap in the breeze. A hangman’s noose is looped about its neck, sallow skin bruised and marked with the ugly pattern of the rope as if it—this thing that is both human and inhuman—has recently been dancing on the gallows. The face is masked, splintered wood painted in garish colors cast into shadow by the woolen hood. Lank, greasy hair falls about its shoulders. Long, slender fingers torn and bloodstained reach up to tug at the noose just like one might adjust a necktie that has become uncomfortably tight.
It takes a step toward me, wraithlike, composed of every nightmare I’ve ever had, complete with the crooked, yellow teeth of crocodiles and lotus flower feet still wrapped in bloodstained bandages. Yellow eyes stare out from the shadows, their color slowly seeping away until I’m staring at green and brown eyes that are unmistakably human. They look just like mine.
The hand reaches out for mine, longing to drag me back into the darkness. I scream and recoil, afraid of what will happen if it touches me.
To my relief, my voice still sounds human, even though it is too loud, as if it echoes in a small room instead of being snatched away by the wind. It’s with a cold, crushing panic that I realize this creature, this thing…is me. It is me, tortured by my own fears, transformed into what I have dreamt about in nightmares. This is me, finally revealed as what my fears have made me.
All my fault, the eyes seem to say to me, filled with a pity I do not deserve. It’s like looking at my reflection in the mirror and wishing that I saw someone else entirely. I can feel the disappointment and hatred for my own reflection welling up inside. My own reflection mocks me.
Suddenly the dark closes in, threatening to obscure the sun and cast everything into an endless shadow. The thing lunges for me, bloody hand touching mine with a slimy coldness. I stumble back with a scream, stepping backwards into nothingness.
The sensation of falling has always haunted me. So many nightmares in which I’m forced to leap into the unknown and leave the solid ground behind me. So many dreams turned sour as I stumble and fall into space. I have always been afraid of falling.
I seem to fall for an eternity, plummeting toward the water, mouth open in a scream that is crushed by the weight of my fear. I look down once, only to see my nightmare waiting below, the sea now a frozen wasteland, hell on earth. It is standing on the ice, arms outstretched to catch me.
I never reach the ground. With a sudden start I wake in my bed, surrounded by four walls and an interminable darkness. It’s hot beneath my covers and my hair is plastered to my head by sweat. I hunker down nonetheless, only my eyes peering out at the dark, afraid that it might still be lurking in the shadows.
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