February arrived and brought with it heavy snowfall. Every surface was blanketed under a thick covering of white that even managed to make my garden look so much prettier than usual. Frost stuck to the spiders webs on the hedgerows, making them sparkle like fairy lights draped over the branches. A robin redbreast flittered from tree to tree and puffed up her feathers as she danced along the top of the garden gate.
I wanted to see the beauty in the winter wonderland beyond my window. I wanted to take delight in watching the snowflakes dance and spin as they fell through the air. But all I could see was a cold landscape that did nothing to lighten my mood. All I could feel was a growing sense of emptiness that seemed to stick to my bones like a winter chill I just couldn’t shake.
My house, which once seemed like a welcome haven to me, now felt increasingly like a prison. The rooms all seemed smaller than they used to, the ceilings lower, the walls moved inwards every day. My nocturnal sentry duties were starting to exhaust me. The endless checking of locks, moving from window to window and door to door, was becoming a millstone around my neck and each night with heavy heart and even heavier soul, the schedule I had imposed upon myself was slowly wearing me down.
Sleeping in the daytime was becoming increasingly difficult. As dawn hooked its claws into the day, I would draw the curtains and haul my body into bed, and there I would lay, drifting in and out of uneasy sleep, which was punctuated by strange and terrible dreams.
In one vivid dream, I was fourteen again and back in my burning house. I was chasing my mother through the flame-filled rooms, calling her name again and again as the smoke choked my lungs and made my eyes sting. Every time I drew closer to her, the flames would rise up between us and she would dart away and I would hear her laughter, as she disappeared from view. Eventually I found myself upstairs surrounded by the fire, with no way to escape and watching through smoky tears as the floorboards began to burn and fall away all around my feet. As the last floorboard disappeared, I fell through the gap only for someone to grab my hand at the last minute. I could not see who my mystery saviour was but he whispered my name over and over again.
When I awoke it took ages to shake his voice from my mind and although it was daytime, I carried out a fervent check of all the windows and doors, convinced that someone had been at my bedside, whispering in my ear.
I returned to my bed but could not sleep. I kept seeing Alex’s face in my mind, picturing him as he stood at the end of the hospital corridor, smiling.
Was it Alex that had grabbed my hand before I plunged into the abyss? Had he come here and whispered in my ear as I slept? Was Alex haunting me?
It would be typical that I should be plagued by not only vampires, but by ghosts now too.
Eventually I gave up fighting with my head and abandoned my bed in favour of the internet. Anything to keep my mind occupied elsewhere. But it was hard to concentrate, I felt jittery and haunted.
However that night, the sentry duties seemed harder than ever. In between the half-hourly checks, I often found my head nodding as exhaustion battered at my senses and tried to take me under. When I suddenly found myself dozing in the armchair, having missed one of my checks, I sprang to life and ran to the kitchen, splashing cold water on my face and feeling horrified that I had let myself lapse. Furious with myself and feeling my heart beat in sudden panic, I flew around the house, checking every lock and bolt and making sure that every hiding place still concealed its weapons.
Everything was how it should have been, but I could not stop my heart pounding away at my chest wall and I stood wide eyed, staring out of the front room window, eyes darting for every possible sign of movement.
The next day, sleep was the ever elusive Scarlet Pimpernel again. The more difficult it became, the more frustrated I got and the further it moved away from my reach. Sometimes, it let me catch it in my grasp and I would doze off, my mind succumbing to dreams, only for it to shake free of my grip an hour later. Each time I awoke, it became increasingly harder to fall back to sleep yet my body and my mind was so exhausted I could barely move from my bed.
This is how it continued for a number of days. And all the while the snow kept falling, creating deep drifts outside my front door and suffocating my grey cottage in its icy embrace.
Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2010 all rights reserved