Joe woke with a start. The cold night air was blowing fiercely through the opened window. The curtain flickered in waves of grey material, projecting shadows onto the far wall. The red neon lights of the hotel’s sign blinked, causing Joe’s eyes to hurt. A migraine was fighting him for the control of his body.
He peeled back the bed sheets. Despite the freezing air, they clung to his body like a second skin. His sweat had set on them like a thick paste. Once free from their sticky grasp, Joe went to the window and leaned out into the fresh air. The scent of night blew into his face, removing the stench of his own sweat from his nostrils and the room behind him. He sucked in a deep breath in the hope that the purity of the air would clear the dream from his mind.
He reluctantly turned to look at the clock, resolving that no matter how obscene the time was, he would not go back to sleep. If he was going to be tormented best to suffer it awake where he could distract himself. Up until now he had avoided the nightmare of Halloween with ultimate skill. Only as sleep had overcome him had he become its victim and now it had him in its grasp. He couldn’t run from it. He sighed, he would never be able to escape it completely- but a little peace would have been appreciated.
Joe locked the window and made his way to the adjoining bathroom. He splashed some cold water in his face and stared at himself in the mirror. The night had not been kind to him- not that it ever was. The last three years had turned him into a shell of the man he had once been. Today though, his transformation was more apparent than normal, just as it was every Halloween. His swollen red eyes were ringed with black circles, his hair plastered to his head with the same sweaty paste that has soiled his bed sheets. He noted the haunted look in his once bright eyes, the worry lines etched deeply into his forehead, aging him beyond his thirty years. In short, he looked a mess. Groaning, Joe dragged his hands down his face, closed his eyes and turned to exit the bathroom.
He stepped back into the bedroom, and scooped his book from the side table. The main character irritated him and the romance plot made him queasy. But it was a distraction. Before he settled onto the bed a chill crept over his body, freezing the droplets of sweat, fusing them to his skin. The curtain was fluttering again. Grumbling, Joe pushed himself from the bed and closed the window. As it shut, the plastic slamming into its frame, Joe’s body turned to stone. The window was supposed to be locked.
Something moved behind him and his spine snapped straight. Footsteps padded across the floorboards. Light footsteps. Joe shook his head. This was impossible, and yet he knew it was happening. He closed his eyes tight and curled his fists, scraping his nails against the window ledge. Bracing himself, Joe turned around slowly. No matter how he braced himself, no matter how much he told himself he was not afraid, the horror of what stood before him never failed to rip a gasp from his lungs. Though he shook with terror, Joe managed to quell the urge to cry out. The boy stood before him, staring through holes cut into the bed sheet he wore as a costume. His deep sea green eyes fixed on Joe. Green Ben 10 pyjamas and matching slippers peeked out from under the sheet which held no trace of the damage Joe knew was there. The only evidence of any trauma was a large red stain that spread over the back of the boy’s head.
Joe’s voice shook as he whispered to himself. “This isn’t real. You’re dreaming again. It’s all in your head.”
He pressed the heel of his hand into his eyes as if trying to push away the image, but when he looked up the boy was still there. He didn’t speak. He just starred accusingly. A whimper rose in the back of Joe’s throat.
“Leave me alone!” he cried, as his gaze fell to the clock on the bedside table. Midnight, 31st October. Witching hour, and the time between days. The exact time the accident had occurred. Though that fateful night had been the first time Joe had ever seen the boy, his image refused to leave Joe’s mind. At night he stood in Joe’s room and stared accusingly. In the day the boy walked with Joe everywhere he went. He’d been unable to get behind of the wheel for years. Each time he had the boy would run into the road, and no matter what, Joe hit him. There was no relief in sleeping or waking, the nightmare continued regardless.
Overwhelmed by his guilt and fear, Joe began to cry. Tears flooded his face and he was unable to control himself any longer.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! If I could change what happened to you I would! But I can’t! I can’t.”
The boy didn’t move. His gaze never faltered. His wide oceanic eyes stared lifelessly through the circular holes. Joe hurled coarse words and objects across the room, sending an ash-tray from the side table straight through the boy’s chest.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone? You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t have been there. This is all your fault. Not mine. You ruined my life you little shit! You ruined my life and what? Now you’re gonna punish me for it. How is that fair!?”
The boy did not respond. His eyes bore into Joe, they knew the depths of his secrets and they drew them up to the surface of Joe’s mind. Joe scoffed and grabbed at the bedside lamp, ripping it from its socket. With all the force he could muster Joe launched the lamp across the room, sending it flying through the ghostly head.
“Leave me alone!”
Glass and porcelain rained down onto the carpet and the boy’s image faded. Joe allowed himself to relax, the nightmare receded slowly before his eyes. He let out a breath and shivered as a cool breeze blew across his back. His head flew around. The window was open again.