It started out as it always did, he could remember its sequence perfectly. At first there was nothing but nothingness, an infinite black veil which appeared right in front of him yet was somehow forever out of reach. He was confident his eyes were opened because he could not feel them closed, but then again he couldn’t feel any part of his body at all. He tried to move his gaze, but whenever he did the omnipresent darkness only moved with him, creating only a useless, senseless thrash. If he kept what he thought to be still he gained a detached, almost relaxing feel as his mind drifted in the void of the dream, a much more pleasant thing compared to what was to come. But as soon as that thought ran through his nonexistent head the black abyss gained a harsh solidity as his knees were suddenly forced onto a cold, slimy floor. It was then that the wait began. Arnold knew. He knew the nightmarish sequence, the horrid cycle to a point, able to count each second of it. Arnold tried subtly to move his body and shift his view, but not a single nerve would budge, and no matter where he thought he shifted his gaze he only saw the same thing. It was now that he cared little for the soothing nothingness he once felt, no his mind was only set on the horrid thing which soon would fill it, all other thoughts were secondary to that.
The time was coming nearer, he knew it so well he almost didn’t need to count. It always happened at the same time, it never let him get too comfortable in the nothingness. The dissipation of fear would only water-down the experience, something he’d come to know the void and thing stood against vehemently. It was just about to happen, he knew as the seconds amounted in his head. His body was still frozen on the floor but he clenched his muscles and tried to shut his eyes and prepare himself mentally for the thing he knew came each night, but got no less terrifying each time. And then it came.
Or at least, then it was supposed to come. But as time passed and the thing’s emergence was overdue, nothing changed. Arnold’s still frozen muscles felt as if they loosened and if he could’ve sighed he would have over and over, the black abyss now seeming like the loveliest thing he had ever seen. The tranquil black dream stayed motionless, quiet and pure, and most important of all, it hadn’t begun. A few more seconds passed. Nothing. Nothing, he thought to himself, nothing, nothing, nothing! It was gone, for the first time in forever he was free, finally-
Out of the corner of his eye a dash of white hurdled onto the black floor, now a rippling plane of cold water. The hump of white in front of him was horrendous, veiled head-to-toe in dying pale-white skin with the creaks and cracks of old rotting limbs echoing throughout the void. Albert’s mind tried to get his body to shake and tremble in fear but his limbs stayed frozen, only building up pain inside him. He tried to fight the seemingly infinite pressure of the abyss to try and move, to try and just move an inch to tremble, but his muscles didn’t even respond to his attempt. The white mess slowly unfolded itself. Arnold tried to flinch or look away but his eyelids were glued in place. The creature groaned as it rose to a hunched a stance, with gangly, thin claws twitching and bony joints shuddering under its tight white skin. The skin was like a shawl that wrapped around its skeletal frame, a rotting veil of it over its face except for their mouth, where yellowed fangs jutted out uneven angles. Despite its greyed rotting and sunken complexion, it looked like a shade of white brighter than the moon when compared with the nightly realm. A painful swell began in Albert’s chest, the start of the inevitable cue, a fact which pressured him to just let it out and be done with it. It was the cue that would set the blasted thing into motion, and he fought it with all his will but only will alone, willpower which quickly dissipated as the pain he couldn’t help only grew. The creature looked up at him, or at least he thought it was looking at him, its eyes veiled invisible in the sheet of skin. It didn’t growl or hiss, it was smart. It knew all it needed to do was wait, be patient. He hated the bastard, the thing, the monster. He wanted it gone, that thought though like all the others times taking up his mind. But as it did the focus he had of holding onto the breath in his lungs vanished, only coming back to him as he let out a gasp that pierced the darkness. There was the cue. The creature lunged at him with a growl like a mongrel as it sped up towards him. It jaws snapped just inches from his face, the force of the void holding it back with an invisible chain as it did every time. The stench of decay flooded from the creatures dark mouth, something Albert could only look at in full view in between flashes of sabre-like teeth. It continued to try and bite Albert with its jags of teeth before being reeled back by the void, only so it could try again. Its covered eyes were still staring at him, no doubt with hunger as it jumped again at him. It reached him again and with the first clamp of its maw Albert felt the wind pushed by the teeth, almost the teeth itself across the tip of his nose. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go either, It got closer. It never had. It shouldn’t have. The thing reeled back with a snarl and then leapt forward with a screech again. Albert tried to scream and thrash away but it still jumped, scratching his nose before it was pulled back. His nose burned yet felt cold and chilled the rest of his body, already frozen in the abyss. Then, as it always id it jumped again. Though now its leash was gone and it flung itself onto Albert, gripping his shoulder with its claws and its mouth about to clamp on his face before his vision dissipated and he felt himself falling back.
Albert woke up in a cold sweat, having fallen off his bed and tangled in his sheets. He wheezed and coughed as he held his head in his hands. It wouldn’t go away. He rocked back and forth, squeezing his eyes shut only to see the grotesque creature on the back of his eyelids again. Fumbling to his feet he staggeringly got dressed, shaking with each move. Before he himself knew it he was racing out of the door and down the street, not even halfway into his overcoat, on his way again to try and stop what seemed to never stop.
The clinic was busier than usual, full of irregulars and therefore people who gawked at the regulars. Most of them were haggard-looking as he was, half-dressed and quaking in their shoes. The new people there who accidentally mistook the place for a regular clinic squirmed out of the way as he shuffled to a seat, still sweating and muttering things to himself even he didn’t understand.
“Good morning, Mr. Douglas.” Ms. Li said from the receptionist desk. He smiled at her. That was likely the best part of his mornings, his day, the only thing that gave him a relaxed feel until he got a new drug prescribed.
The office was cold and bland, much like Dr. Volkert himself, which Albert supposed was fitting. It was so silent it might’ve made him nervous, had it not been for the buzz of the fluorescent light and the scrawling on the clipboard by Volkert. Finally, after his session of note taking he set the board aside and greeted Albert without enthusiasm. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Albert sounded just as excited. Volkert strode to a cupboard and began sifting through its contents. “Same problem?” He asked.
“No. It’s changing.”
“Oh? How so?”
Alberts hands clenched and he shook along with his voice. “I-it almost stopped, it almost didn’t happen, and then… then it…”
“Then what? It happened?” Volkert sounded impatient.
“And then it touched me.”
“Hmm,” Dr. Volkert said, obviously not seeing it with the same impact Douglas did. He looked at Albert as if prompting him to say more, but he simply had nothing more to say.
“Change is not so usual in repetitive lapses of sleep paralysis.” The doctor said as he walked back to Albert and handed him a bottle. “We’ll have to send you for more testing later on to determine specifics, but until then I’m going to prescribe you these.”
“What’ll they do?”
“If they work, they should completely null your subconsciousness’s nocturnal activity, though take it sparingly. It’s not the drug we’d normally prescribe, as we’ve had multiple cases of extreme paranoia and halluci-“
Albert sprung from the hair and backed away towards the door, gripping the bottle tightly. “Y-you had this all along?” He sputtered in anger. The doctor only gave human exasperated look, like he was dealing with the antics of a child. “Mr. Douglas, you must understand, this is our most experim-”
“-I could’ve been free!” Albert shrieked. “…I will be free.” He muttered while looking at the bottle before bolting out of the office and down the hall.
“Mr. Douglas!” Dr. Volkert tried to call after him.
Albert sat upright in his bed, still fully dressed and sweating, even with the window open and welcoming a chill breeze. He took a pill about two hours ago. Was that too early? He hoped the other one he took just now didn’t negate the effects. Albert trembled in the lamplit room, anxious and afraid. Scared of something else for once in his life. False hope.
A bird chirped in his ear. That wasn’t part of the dream. As he opened his eyes, a blinding light followed the chirp, something which wasn’t right at all. There was no black, cold dream with a nightmare inside it, not one that he remembered at least. Everything felt real and calm, not disjointed and horrific. It hadn’t happened and if it did he hadn’t remembered a moment of it. He shot out of his sheets and jumped on the bed, letting out a cry of joy before lying back down, not afraid to accidentally go to sleep anymore. He was free from it, this time he really was. He could do anything now, everything in fact compared to his life yesterday.
Then a scratch broke the air and the bird’s chirping vanished. Albert’s ear felt cold just as the sound passed through it. He twisted his head around frantically in all directions and almost didn’t see anything, until his eyes landed on a spot of doorframe just a little bit less with than the rest. As his sight concentrated it came into clear view; a gnarled finger of dead pale skin. A low growl came next which made him twitch as beads of sweat formed on his head. “N-no…” He stuttered.
It didn’t follow his command and instead peaked its masked, sickly head around the doorway and gave a sickly growl which conveyed a message its veiled eyes could not.
“N-no, no, no!” Albert screamed. The creature didn’t wait like it usually did, pouncing onto the bed and giving him just enough time to roll out of it and land near his nightstand. The creature snarled and Albert scurried to his feet. The pistol that was once under his nightstand was now raised valiantly to the creature’s head, and he gave the beast no wait as well. He fired off two shots, but in fear his hand twitched to the right side and so the creature moved to the left and he never made his mark. Albert tried to shoot it a third time but the beast leapt again, and to dodge it Albert turned and plunged through the window. In the early morning the streets were filled with people out on early morning walks, something Albert didn’t notice as he crashed through the window. He scrambled to his feet, covered in blood and surrounded by bloody glass, firing shot after shot into the bedroom window. Shrieks and screams from the neighbours sounded, and Albert turned to one of them, a mother with a stroller, quickly backing away from him.
“Run, go!” He trembled. “It’s here!”
The walls of the courtyard were tall and thick with concrete, a fact the doctors mentioned to him over and over in reassuring him the thing wouldn’t be able to come near him. Fools. They didn’t get it, not that they even believed him. They took the pills too, and his gun. Neither seemed to help him, anyway. He could never escape it now. Wherever he went he saw a glimpse of it, a flash of white, the scratch of a claw or low growl. He shuddered, twitching in his wheelchair as much as the clamps would let him. The walls of the courtyard were nothing but an opaque grey, with a few windows dotting it and an artificial waterfall pouring a wall of water into a pool, perhaps to soften the brutal atmosphere the tall walls presented. It didn’t work, but it worked well for Albert in a different capacity. With his constraints he couldn’t flee the thing, no, but now he could do something to prevent that entirely. Thank God he noticed it, because it undoubtedly changed everything. He saw it, or glimpses of it when they wheeled him into the courtyard, and immediately he asked to be set up there. Right where he was, sitting by the reflective fall of water, the haphazard glass on the courtyard wall appeared on it and reflected every inch of the area, sometimes twice over, all presented in the showering water. It was perfect. Like a dutiful security man he sat in front of it with intent, watching it so carefully the doctors began to think he was actually insane. Or they already did he supposed, just more so. Didn’t matter. He surveyed his all-seeing, watery camera, the beast unable to just- appear, as it did, unable to do… whatever it would when it got a hold of him. He didn’t move and blinked one eye at a time. No matter how painful or lifeless a life this would be it was one of guaranteed safety as well, and to Albert that was a sacrifice of infinite gain. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t sleep, and still he’d live a better life than he’d ever lived. The water was so clear as it fell seamlessly into the pool, like a television screen he could never take his eyes off, for fear of losing himself. A faint rumble grew in the skies above and the steps and murmurs of others in the courtyard faded to nothing, but Albert hardly had any focus left to hear either. Then a single drop of water, not one from the synchronized flow of the fall rocketed down and landed dead on the watery mirage. The image broke and shattered in ripples under the small but devastating impact, and Albert went cold again. He squeaked and hunched over as much as he could in the straps of his chair. It was here now, he had given it its chance. Rain was pouring hard now, dowsing everything and Albert but most importantly the water mirror, only able to produce a garbled reflection behind him now. But even so in its warped a background a speck of white had appeared miraculously, and Albert immediately began to shake and let out a whimper. He rocked freakishly in his chair but like the dream, his body barely budged. The rain picked up and flooded the courtyard, but even through the noise of the droplets a distinct guttural growl sounded behind him.
’N-no, not again.” He barely made the words out before letting out a scream. He writhed and and rocked back and forth in his wheelchair. Then he looked at the pool of water. Though it rippled from the stream and droplets, under the surface there would be nothing, a painful nothing but a nothingness nonetheless, more importantly without any horrid white moon in site. He rocked and jolted his chair even harder until it tilted back and forth, and when he felt a pair of icy hands on his back the chair finally plunged itself into the water, and water rushed into his lungs as he embraced a different kind of cold.
Albert Douglas didn’t know he was dead, and that was perhaps the best of all. He couldn’t think of what a beautiful thing the pure nothingness was, but it was fine for the same reason that he couldn’t see, hear, feel and experience what he’d come here to escape. Yet the great difference Albert was unable to comprehend in the dreams of life and the eternal one of death was the physicality of one and the nonexistence of the other, though he finally realized it as he was suddenly able to see the black window of death around him, just as a clump of white entered his vision.