Wednesday, 6 January 2010
YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE? By Sue Harding
Your Worst Nightmare?
Your worst nightmare? The one where you’re running, right? You’re running away from something. Or someone. You have to keep running because whatever, or whoever, is chasing you is so terrifying you’ll do anything you have to in order to get away. Hell, it’s so scary, you can’t even picture what it is, your brain just won’t let you even begin to build that image in your mind.
Or maybe it’s the one where you can’t run. You can’t even move. You try to will your arms and legs to shift but they won’t budge. And sometimes you even have to tell yourself to breathe, to take another lungful of air. But you don’t want to. Because maybe if you don’t breathe you’ll pass out and then when you come round, whatever it was that frightened you won’t be there anymore; it was just a nightmare.
I’ve had nightmares like those before. Both kinds. But this one right now is something altogether different. Because I don’t remember even being asleep.
What I do remember is knocking on the door. I’d been here lots of times before, but this was different. I hadn’t changed and the people who lived here hadn’t either, but the situation was altered, different. Awkward.
I was knocking on the front door of my ex-wife’s parents, Ted and Alice Heathcliffe. It had been years since I’d last seen them. Their daughter, Cheryl, and I had been together about eighteen months before we’d decided to get married. As in-laws went, they were OK, I suppose. Polite, a bit reserved, friendly enough I guess. But I never felt like I really belonged, you know what I mean?
Anyway, we had a kid. A girl. Called her Melanie. She was beautiful. All fathers say that, but she was really special. And she was mine. Well, ours. But to me she was the only flesh and blood I’ve ever known. I was abandoned as a baby, raised in foster homes.
You soon learn two things in that scenario. One - you learn to be grateful; no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. Two - you learn that nothing lasts forever. Just when you start getting used to things you get moved on. Well, that’s how it worked out in my case, anyway.
I kept my nose clean, obeyed the rules, left school and learned a trade. I was doing alright as an electrician. You don’t get the big money straightaway, but I was doing OK. And when I called to do a job at the shop where Cheryl worked she made me a cuppa. Best way to get a tradesman on-side - make him a brew. Anyway, she had a nice smile, corny I know, but we seemed to get along. A few dates and she could have led me around with a ring in my nose.
So getting married was like having this whole family move into my life. When Melanie arrived, all new and wrinkly but perfectly formed, I guess I think life was just about perfect. I should have remembered the rules. Rule two, anyway.
I don’t know where it started to go wrong but things fell apart fairly quickly. When Melanie was about three months old, Cheryl started spending a lot more time with her folks. True, I was working all hours trying to keep the business ticking over. When you’re self-employed you have to take whatever comes your way, whenever. I did a couple of out-of-town contracts so Cheryl took Melanie and stayed with her folks while I was away. Then it was an extra night here, a weekend there and before I knew it Cheryl had stopped coming home.
We divorced and I battled to see Melanie, to be a part of her life. The visits were sporadic at best, but I’d jump through hoops just to have the chance of some precious time with my daughter. My daughter. Mine.
Anyway, I was surprised to get a call from Alice. It seemed churlish not to at least turn up, even if it was a case of checking out some wiring. I suppose they figured I might do the job on the cheap. It got me through the door, at least, and maybe it might lead to me getting to see Melanie again.
Alice answered the door. A welcome smile, not too gushy. I made sure I wiped my shoes meticulously. There was no sign of Cheryl, or Melanie. But then, I should have realised there wouldn’t be. My heart thumped to my boots, but I was here to do a job so I got on with it. I’d noticed the ‘For Sale’ board in the front garden, guessed they wanted to be sure the house was in good order.
The fuse box was in the cellar. Dank, dark and not very pleasant, but I’ve worked in worse places. I had a quick look, noted down details, checked cabling. It wouldn’t take too long. I had enough stuff on the van, but maybe if I said I needed to come back another day, I might have another chance to see Melanie. I wasn’t too worried about Cheryl. For whatever reason she clearly didn’t want anything more to do with me. Damned if I know what I did, but there you are. The curious thing was there was no sign of Melanie at all. It was as if she never visited her grandparents, no toys left here for when she visited.
I decided to play fair. It wasn’t a big job, couple of hours maybe. I nipped out to the van and got some gear. Ted met me at the door and ushered me into the kitchen for a cuppa. This is going well, I thought. And Alice always did make nice cakes. A new recipe, she’d said. Needed a guinea-pig. I was glad to oblige.
Funny thing was, about half an hour into the job I started to get blurred vision. I couldn’t seem to get my eyes to focus. And then I kept dropping the screw driver. I was lying on the floor when Ted came downstairs. He didn’t say anything, just looked at me, then pulled an old chair over. I’m not a big chap, but I was surprised Ted could manage to drag me onto the seat, dead weight and all that. I could hear the grunts he made with the exertion. I suppose you can always find the strength to do what you have to.
I remember Alice appeared with an old clothes line. I hadn’t seen her come down the stairs. Now I was upright, my head was slumped on my chest and I couldn’t move it. But I saw her slippers and forced my eyes to move up in their sockets, seeing her legs and the bottom hem of her apron. And the rope in her hand. And that’s about the time I began to get scared.
Ted looped the rope around the chair and then around me, tying me to it. Not that I was in any position to get up and leave. No, it was to stop me from falling off. Curiously, I almost felt grateful, until I remembered that I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. I was screaming inside my head. Why were they doing this? Couldn’t they see I needed help? Why didn’t they call for an ambulance?
Alice was talking now. Along with the blurred vision, my hearing wasn’t doing so good, either. It sounded like she was talking into a bucket. Echoing, know what I mean? But I realised she wasn’t talking to me. She was telling Ted to get a move-on, something about getting everything sorted out before the van came. Ted finished tying the rope round, fiddling with the knots behind me. My bodyweight was dragging me slightly to one side. I was uncomfortable, but there was nothing I could do. Even as they both turned and walked back up the stairs all I could do was look at a damp patch on the floor. It started near my foot, and I noticed my jeans were wet, all round the seat. Then everything went dark.
For a second I thought I’d gone blind, until I realised that the light had been turned off. Pretty soon my eyes got used to the dimness. There was a small airbrick up on the wall, little pinpoints of light growing sharper. My vision started to improve, but I still couldn’t move. I could hear them moving about, upstairs. A door slammed and then a banging noise, like someone hammering nails. I caught a faint sound of Ted whistling. He seemed relaxed, happy even.
That was a couple of days ago. They haven’t been back downstairs to see me. My lips are cracked and dry, and although I’ve gone past being hungry, I’d kill for a drink.
At first I thought it was some kind of bad joke but as the hours have passed I think I know they aren’t going to come back. I heard more banging earlier, like furniture being carried about. I think that’s to do with what Alice said about getting ready before the van comes. I heard the hiss of airbrakes, like on a large lorry. A removal van, perhaps? I heard the crunch on the gravel outside, people walking in and out of the house.
I’m still wondering about Melanie. She’d be about four now. I’m surprised neither Alice nor Ted mentioned her when we were chatting in the kitchen, having a cup of tea. And there were no photographs. I seemed to remember them being doting Grandparents, but there were no pictures of a fair-haired girl with a cheeky grin. That’s how I imagine Melanie, getting up to mischief.
Memories and imagination. That’s all I have left now. Oh, and the car seat. I’d bought a new one for the van, so I could carry her safely, if I was ever allowed to take her out again. The old one was wrecked in the crash. That was the last time I was allowed to see Melanie. She looked so peaceful and sleepy.
That was about the time Cheryl and I split up. I haven’t seen either of them since. That’s why it was a surprise that Ted and Alice invited me round. I’ve been away for a while, not been able to get back here. Unavoidably detained, so to speak.
So, it was a nice gesture that they got in touch. I don’t think they really needed anything done with their wiring; it was just an excuse to see me again. But I wonder why they wouldn’t answer my questions about Cheryl or Melanie? It’s like they don’t exist any more.
It’s been quiet for hours now. I think they’ve gone. I’m starting to panic a bit. It’s cold and dark down here in the cellar. Like being buried. Like Cheryl and Melanie, now I come to think of it. My heart is thumping in my chest. They’re not coming back. None of them are. They’ve left me here.
I wonder how long it’ll take before I wake up.
Because this is a nightmare, right?
Sue Harding works in a library in Warks. Having spent years 'shelving' books, she's starting to 'write' them instead! Sue blogs here: http://irefusetogoquietly.blogspot.com/