It was dark. No matter how much I ran, I couldn’t escape them. Distorted creatures were following me, always just on my heel. They were trying to hurt me, their claws reaching for me. My feet became lead and I couldn’t run anymore. The creatures encircled me in a deadly trap, yapping at me and flashing their sharp teeth. My heart was racing. I raised my arms to protect myself, but I was sure it was useless. Any moment now they would tear me apart, ripping my limbs off one by one.
Someone was touching my arms, pulling them slowly down from my face. It felt like ice sticking to my skin.
All I could see now was him. A man. A strong jaw line, blond hair and ocean blue eyes. The typical surfer. But he was not free-spirited and life-embracing; he was bleak and full of darkness. All the scary creatures that had hunted me before were gone. It was just him and me, in a lightless room.
‘Ameerah, this is not a dream’, he spoke, his voice resonating in my head.
His steel-blue eyes fixated on mine. It felt strangely real. The man’s face leant further towards me. His face felt cold, like an ice statue the air prickled against my skin. I noticed I couldn’t feel my arms anymore. ‘I’m Blake. You can trust me. When they ask you, say yes and everything will be alright.’
‘What do you mean?’ I tried to turn away from him, but I couldn’t. His hands pulled me closer to him. There was a feeling of imminent doom in my stomach.
‘Trust me and everything will be ok,’ he said as a draft crawled up my spine. He pushed me away brutally and suddenly I was falling, falling from up high into complete blackness. I screamed for dear life.
I opened my eyes and lay soaking in sweat, breathing erratically. I had been haunted by Blake – whoever he was – for the last many nights, so many I had lost count. Every night it was the same. He was becoming so real to me I feared I might one day wake up with him in my bedroom.
The radio turned itself on, and whether I liked it or not, it was time to start the day. I shook the unpleasant memories from my head and walked over to my bathroom. Only once I was sure the water was piping hot did I get into the shower, washing away the nightmare, and with it, the lingering torment.
The radio station announced another sunny day with temperatures near 38°C. With a towel wrapped around my hair I walked into the kitchen and turned on the coffee machine. My dog Bruce came rushing from the living room to greet me. He could barely contain himself. The moment I reached down he jumped up to cuddle with me, his tail wiggling happily against my leg.
I poured the coffee into my battered blue travel mug. Bruce sat by the terrace door, eyeing me with anticipation. Without any breakfast in me, I grabbed the keys and unlocked the terrace door. Bruce raced outside and made a loop in the garden.
We started our usual walk behind the house along a dusty sand road between the empty fields of long dry grass and patches of shrubbery. The sun was climbing the sky and warmed my skin. Crickets had already started their concerts and birds were eagerly swooping into the brush, ferreting out insects. The coffee sips slowly woke me up.
Bruce ran forward, following trails, stopping, sniffing in the wind, looking back to make sure I was still there, then he continued racing around the fields. Every now and again he ran back towards me, circled around me before speeding off once again. I could see how happy he was rushing through the grass and looking at me with his big goofy smile. I could still remember the day I found him in those very fields, abandoned. A small wincing beige-coloured ball of fur had tumbled onto the road in front of me; I had sat down and let him come closer, patting and caressing him. When I had walked home, he had followed me the whole way. I was sure my parents would be against adopting him, but my brother and I begged like we had never wanted anything else. That night my brother and the dog had fallen asleep together on the floor, and my mother had not had the heart to separate them. My brother was only six, so he was mostly my dog and I took care of him. The daily walks were my time to reflect and make sense of life, not that I wasn’t still confused about the meaning of life at twenty-four.
I checked my watch. It was time to get back; I couldn’t be late for class. With a sharp whistle I caught his attention; he stopped, looked up at me frozen in place. I turned around and just a few seconds later he raced passed me back towards the house.
My mother was in the kitchen making breakfast. The chopping of fruit was audible and the smell of fresh ground coffee was lingering in the air. My younger brother Liam sat by the table playing with two toy cars. From the gentle sound of running water inside the pipes in the walls I knew my stepfather was upstairs in the shower.
‘Good morning!’ I shouted passing the kitchen and hurrying to my bedroom to pick up my backpack.
‘Hun, get ready! You’re gonna be late for class!’ my mother shouted, her head sticking out of the door frame.
‘I’m about to leave. Can you make me the usual milkshake?’
‘Already done, here!’ She came into my room and held the large black travel mug towards me. I stashed it into my backpack and was out the door just minutes later. With the helmet on my head I pushed my scooter out of the garage and turned on the engine. A loud puffing sound boomed and it awoke. The stony driveway leading up to the road made me vibrate uncomfortably on my small scooter.
As I approached the city, traffic became denser. The commuters caused a daily gridlock in the city and my campus was on the opposite side of town.
The morning lecture had just begun when I thought I suddenly saw out of the corner of my eye a Blake-persona standing in the corner of the classroom by the door. When I looked over, he was gone. A chill went down my spine.
I tried to concentrate on the professor in front of the blackboard and forget about Blake, but during the whole lecture I had the impression he was just behind me. Every now and again I could feel a cold breath on my neck, making me jerk up.
Luckily, I only had class in the morning and hoped I could rid myself of him on my way home. The hot air brushed against my skin and made my t-shirt swim in the air on my drive home.
When I finally arrived at home the thick air and intense sunrays baked me before I had locked my scooter.
‘There you are!’ Mum came out of the house as I emerged from the open garage. She planted a kiss on my cheek. ‘Can you watch Liam for a bit? I’ll just get some shopping done.’
I nodded and she left in her deep blue Mercedes.
Liam announced he wanted to go swimming in the pool, so I took my homework out on the terrace and studied while he splashed around in the water. Bruce followed me faithfully and settled in the shade under the patio table, his fury back resting against my shin.
Liam looked so small with just his head sticking out of the water and his floats around his two chicken-arms. For such a small person however, he did make a lot of noise, splashing around and paddling after his floating ducks.
From the terrace I could hear the entrance door being opened and heavy steps followed.
‘Hey honey, how was your day?’ said my stepfather, David, as he came out onto the terrace and kissed me on the forehead.
‘Good, good, nothing special to report. I have a lot of stuff to study this weekend.’ I said smiling at him from my chair.
‘I’m sure you can do it. Is your mother home?’
‘No, she left. She had to do some errands so I’m watching the sea monster.’ I responded, nodding towards Liam and the torrent of splashes he was whipping up.
‘Well, in a minute you’ll be watching us both,’ David smiled and disappeared into the house. A few minutes later he reappeared in a pair of swimming trunks. Liam tried to swim towards his father, but he had trouble moving around in the water and mostly ended up just splashing around in circles.
David let himself fall into the pool and swam in two strokes to his son. He pulled him high up out of the water and kissed him on the cheek. No one could mistake them for anything but father and son; both had light blond hair, identical brown eyes, and the same large forehead.
I didn’t have many memories of my biological father. All I knew was that he had left us and started a new family. I had chosen to forget about him, as I presumed, he had done the same to my mother and I. David was a great man who treated my mother well and I had come to see him as my father. He had offered to adopt me shortly after their marriage. Since then we had grown very close and we regularly went to dinner together just the two of us.
Eventually, mum came out on the terrace, dressed in her bikini, ready to join them in the pool. I had been so deep in my thoughts I had not even heard her come back from her shopping.
‘How is the homework going?’ she asked and looked at my open folders and books on the table.
I grunted in response.
‘Leave your notes in my bedroom and I’ll take a look at it while you’re at dinner with Dad,’ she said, smiling and brushing my hair behind my ear.
‘Leah, come! The water is perfect!’ David shouted from the pool over Liam’s shrieks. My mother walked over to the pool and gracefully stepped in.
‘Mummy, mummy, look at me!’ Liam screamed delighted and tried to paddle over to her. His movements made the water spill over and wet the terrace.
They looked so happy together, the three of them. Liam was still young; I wasn’t sure he understood his father was not my father. Or he simply didn’t care. Even if they hadn’t treated me any differently, I always felt like an outsider. Like something didn’t quite fit.
All three of them came out of the pool dripping with chlorine-saturated water.
‘What time is it?’ Mum came to me and looked at my phone, ‘Oh honey you better get ready.’ She turned to David and kissed him quickly.
‘Right, Meerah, you ready?’ David asked me.
‘Just need ten minutes.’ I got up and walked into my room with my books and notes. Bruce awoke from under the table and raced into the house ahead of me. I checked my scarce makeup and put on a loose blue top and short blue jeans and tied my hair back in a high ponytail.
Bruce gave a tortured sound and I bent down to scratch him behind the ears, ‘You’ll have to wait until I get back.’
The staff at the restaurant showed us to our table. The orange and beige décor and quiet music made me feel comfortable. The chef waved at us as we came in.
‘How is work?’ I asked David, picking at the slices of Baguette the waiter had placed on the table.
David took a sip from his glass of red wine and started talking. He was running his own company, but recently had thought about selling the company and start something new.
We then proceeded to talking about my studies and how I imagined my life after college.
We left the restaurant not too late; Bruce was waiting for his walk. At home, my parents went up to their bedroom to watch a movie together. Before they did, mum handed me back the draft of my history paper with her own notes. I took a look into Liam’s room and kissed him on the forehead. He was already asleep and had twisted his duvet in all directions, so it only covered his back. I rearranged it and stood a while at his door watching him sleep. He was such a sweet boy.
Bruce was sitting by the terrace door in my room, anticipating his evening walk. I opened the door and let Bruce run out while I gathered my mobile phone and a torch light.
There was a thump.
When I turned around, a book had shifted on the shelf. It was an edition of the Good Omen. I walked over to it and put it back in place. There was a sound of something bumping into my desk. I spun around, but the room was empty. The door to the rest of the house was closed, the stack of books on my desk were untouched, my bed was made, the poster of Canada on the wall above my bed hadn’t changed. It had to have been my imagination going wild with all those stupid nightmares.
I turned away and walked out to catch up with Bruce.
The sun was low, but it was still light enough outside. The smell of lavender swirled in the air. The typical smells of Provence were carried by the Mistral wind through the landscape and out towards the Mediterranean Sea. Even with this fresh breeze, I wasn’t cold.
My thoughts drifted around just like the wind, until they were disturbed by a sudden bark.
Bruce only barked when he felt threatened, and that was a rarity. I followed him away from the road into the tall grass. He stared into the air and showed his teeth.
‘Bruce!’ I scolded him and he stopped. He seemed fixated on something in the middle of the air. With the torch light I scanned around us, but there was nothing but the swaying of the dried long grass. The sun had dipped below the horizon and the night was quickly rolling over us; I didn’t feel comfortable staying out longer.
I turned around and headed back home. Bruce followed me even though he stopped a few times to look back and growl. He acted as though there was someone with us. I found myself sweeping the grounds more often with the torchlight, suddenly feeling paranoid. All I saw was the sea of grass moving with the wind.
It was dark. After being chased by distorted figures with long claws and sharp teeth, he was there. The ocean blue eyes, staring right at me, burning my skin with his icy hands. Again.
‘Ameerah, this is not a dream.’ Blake haunted me again in my sleep. I wanted to wake up and escape him. He always brought those dangerous creatures with him, and then he pushed me off the edge. I willed myself but was unable to move.
‘It is time now. You will have to crossover. Don’t be afraid. Trust me.’
His eyes stared into mine and I could feel his hands on my face. This time they felt warm, there was no burning from the coldness. Then, he let go, disappearing into thin air and I gently resurfaced into consciousness.
This time, I was not frantic; I was calm. With a strange feeling in my stomach I started my daily routine. The feeling in my stomach grew stronger with every passing hour of the day.
A stormy shower started in the late afternoon and it was pouring in streams by the time I got on my scooter to head home. I could barely see in front of me. The roads were slippery, and I was not confident riding my scooter in even a light drizzle. The condensed air settled on the inside of my visor transforming into fog. The heavy rain drew a grey curtain over the Earth. Blake’s face kept appearing in front of me, distracting me.
Eventually, I made it out of the city and only a few more miles separated me from home. I switched on the high beam lights, though on the scooter there was not much difference. The rain had not calmed down; the cars overtook me too closely as always.
Finally, I saw a group of houses appear in the distance to my left; my house was at the bottom of that street. I slowed down. Only a few more minutes and I would be home. Lights from an oncoming vehicle appeared in front of me, but I had enough time to turn off the road before the car would be close.
A flash caught my eye. I looked in the rear-view mirror, but I had no time to act. Someone came up behind me, speeding out of the curve, way over the speed limit.
I had no time. I turned the gas dial hoping to clear the way, but the road was slippery. A deep honk echoed. The scooter slipped on the road just as the car made impact.
I closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, only a few seconds had passed. The pain struck me like lightning. I could still hear the honking; a deep horn from a truck driving by. I lay on the concrete ground in the middle of the road. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. The rain drummed down on me. Warm liquid filled my jacket.
Then it was quiet. There was just the sound of the rain on my helmet. It was growing dark around me. I was cold, so cold. Everything slowed down. Someone appeared above me, but I could already tell it was too late. I couldn’t see who it was. My brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen. It quietly shut down. Everything was so quick. The excruciating pain faded. It was all over now. I was relieved of my aches. And I let go…