The Cold Hard Truth
I heave open the front door, flop against its flaky blue paint and fight to catch my breath. This is crazy. All I’ve done is walk five minutes from the bus-stop to our house and I’m wrecked.
“Da-ad,” I call out. My voice is croaky and it catches. “It’s me, Emily….”
Not surprising. He’s got the TV turned up so loud I doubt he’d have heard a twenty-one-gun salute if it went off right in front of him.
I’ll let him know I’m home and then I’m heading to bed to sleep off whatever lurgy has invaded my system and zapped all my energy.
I picture Dad lying on the sofa in his favourite spot, the place he spends so much time that when he gets up you can still see the imprint of his butt cheeks, and the worn-out, slightly grubby patch where his head rests. Poor Dad. He’s a shell of the man he used to be.
I push myself off the door and dump my college bag on the stairs.
“I’ve come home early….” I make my way to the living room and nudge the door with my hip. “I feel crap.” The door swings open and I shift my weight to take a step forward, but something makes me pause.
The heavy brocade curtains are drawn making the room dark but in the soft blue hue coming from the TV, I make out the shape of Dad lying on the sofa.
And I know something is wrong.
My eyes are still adjusting to the darkness so I don’t see anything amiss, but I feel it. It’s hanging in the air making all the tiny hairs on my arms stand up.
For God’s sake, Emily, get a grip.
I mentally shake myself, step into the room and hit the light switch.
And then I see it.
It’s up the walls, soaked into the carpet, and all over my lovely Dad.
I hold onto the wall to steady myself as swirls of red dance and collide before my eyes.
This must be a bad dream.
I squint, forcing my focus to settle on Dad’s face. His eyes are open and vacant, and he’s so pale. I’ve never seen anyone that pale before.
My feet are anchored to the floor. I force one leg in front of the other to go to him.
I’ve only taken two, maybe three steps, when I catch sight of something moving over by the curtains.
My heart picks up a new crazy rhythm as a dark figure unfurls. A man?
I'm barely breathing. My eyes stay glued to the intruder while in the background a TV chef harps on about the importance of getting your oven to the right temperature before adding your soufflés.
None of this is real, I remind myself. None of this is happening.
The intruder is upright now, towering over my five-foot-four inches. His hoodie, pulled tight around his face, is spattered with blood.
Only his eyes are visible. Dark and menacing. They meet mine for a split second before his head dips and he charges in my direction, towards the door, knocking me off balance.
Instinctively, stupidly, I reach out to steady myself and grab hold of his arm. He rips it back in an attempt to shake me off, but my knuckles turn white with a vice-like grip on his sleeve. I know I should let go but I’m paralysed by fear.
The monster's chest rises and falls in quick succession, but he says nothing. He looks up from my hand and as his eyes meet mine, the skin around them tightens and then loosens. As if he’s pleading with me.
This is a just a bad dream. If I just wake myself up, then everything will go back to normal.
A flash of light bounces off metal and before I can react, I realise a blade has been drawn along my arm.
The sound of the TV fades and the air around me stills and it’s so surreal, I want to laugh.
I raise my arm and hold it front of my face, unable to take my eyes from the red line snaking an ugly path from my wrist to my elbow.
I see it but I don’t believe it.
There isn’t any pain.
It’s because I’m dreaming and none of this is real.
The line gets thicker until it gapes and I tilt my head as dark red blood spills onto the pale skin of my forearm.
I hear a sharp intake of breath and realise it’s coming from me. A rush of heat spreads along my skin like someone’s dragging a red-hot poker along my arm.
And then everything becomes sharp and clear and terrifyingly real.
The front door slams and I snap my head in that direction.
This really happened.