Written by Thomas Anthony Lay It’s Saturday night and you’re dressed up in your favourite smart-casual outfit. Excitement fills your heart as you check yourself one last time in the mirror, make a final adjustment to your hair which is now perfect, and head out of the room. You glance at your coat as you walk past it, smiling to yourself as you open your front door and allow the warm, summer sun to splash your exposed skin, a gentle breeze tickles your face as it creeps into your house. It’s going to be an exciting night! Your friend will probably be waiting for you at the local bar, ready to celebrate her birthday. Most of your other friends will also be there. It’s not that often you all get together like this but it’s always sure to be immense fun when you do. After locking your door, keeping your house secure, you head down the street you’re most familiar with, not really paying attention to where you’re walking, but with your face to the sky basking in the warm evening air surrounding you. You’ve walked this route a thousand times, and you know it so well that your body goes into autopilot as you allow your mind to wonder about what the night has in store for you, drinking and laughing with your favourite people in the entire world. Shortly after setting off, you arrive at the pub you’ve been in countless times before - your pub. The sound of singing birds and a gentle breeze erupt into the merry ruckus of debate and laughter as you step through the doorway. The smell of alcohol and and hot food dances around your nostrils bringing with it a warm nostalgic feeling that simmers in your stomach. You spot several of your friends gathered around a table in the far corner all waving frantically at you and you cannot help but to beam with delight at seeing them. Almost jogging over, you give them all a warm hug and wish the special guest a happy birthday. A drink already awaits you, a glass full stood among a variety of other beverages, all of differing volumes. You take your seat and take a sip, feeling the cool liquid swish around your mouth, the flavours of your drink of choice exploding on contact with your tongue and the warmth of the alcohol sliding down your throat to rest in your stomach. The feeling of that first sip was incredibly satisfying. Sliding into the conversation is easy with these people, and no more than a minute goes by before you’re already in full swing bringing more laughter to the group. Sip after sip, your drink diminishes steadily. Your mood is high, your body is relaxed. As time passes, more friends join the group and more alcohol is consumed. The empty glasses pile up and are removed by bar staff as you take turns heading to the bar to top up. The bar buzzes around you, the sun sets outside and the dark shroud of night covers your oblivious world. Another few hours pass and some of your friends decide to start heading home after another brilliant night, an opinion shared by all. You may have drunk a little too much, however, and your vision is blurred. It becomes difficult to maintain focus and balance as you hug your friends goodnight and slur words of love and friendship to them. The words are returned and followed by more hugs and hand shakes as the bar staff politely urge what is left of your group to make your way outside. Without causing a fuss, you oblige and stagger to the front doors and outside into the warm night time air. The familiar breeze strokes your face as you say your final goodbyes for the night, ready to amble home on your own allowing your legs to direct you. The chatter of the streets fades to the ambient sounds of rustling leaves and solitary footsteps. The night is quiet, warm, and lonely. Now far away from the pub you came from, you mumble and giggle to yourself, following the comforting glow of the street lights illuminating the path back to your comfortable home. The streets twist and turn, you’re aware of the familiar route you should be taking, and as you shuffle along steadily you make the same right-turn you’ve made countless times before. You’re almost home, and it’s a good thing too as the temperature seems to have taken a sudden downward turn. The night seems darker now, and much colder than it was barely a few minutes ago. You clutch your shoulders hoping to bring yourself some warmth and pick up your pace to get home quicker. Following the street lights seemed easy earlier, but now they blink and fade with every step. The large circles of light once so bright now seem difficult to see. Your heart begins to beat faster, and your stomach turns. The alcohol is making a comeback, and stretching your arm out to rest on the nearest lamppost proves to be a bad decision as your hand touches nothing. With your weight behind you and no lamppost to hold you steady, you fall to the ground scraping your hands on the cold, hard concrete beneath you. Your stomach can no longer hold the quantity of liquid you consumed earlier and with a mighty heave, the contents of your stomach is ejected all over the ground in front of you. Another heave and more vomit to add to the puddle. Dragging your wrist across your mouth to wipe away the remnants of saliva from your lips, you slump back against a wall and take some deep breaths. You look up to the lamppost that was supposed to break your fall and see nothing. Looking left, and then looking right, nothing. No lampposts, no light source. Confused and disoriented, you help yourself to your feet and scan the area around you. This street is familiar, but at the same time you know you’ve never seen it before. Despite the lack of light, you can somehow still see through the darkness, barely. Tall, foreboding houses tower above you each side of the street and run parallel to the road. The trees here are bare, no more than a construct of sticks and branches mocking you, teasing you, confusing you. A sharp wind gusts down the street dragging a bitterly cold air behind it. You shiver and your skin goosebumps. Scared and confused, you start down the street again, hurrying yourself along. Your vision begins to return to normal as the adrenaline pumping through your system starts to sober you up. As you glance at the houses each side of the street, blank faces stare down at you. You can see them, you can feel their uninviting stare burn through your skin. Icy claws drag pointed fingernails down your spine and you break into a hurried jog. Your eyes widen and your heart pounds faster and heavier with every step. Your heavy breath mists as it leaves your body with every exhalation. The figures watching you from blackened windows, motionless, expressionless, are silently screaming at you, casting you out and threatening your soul. Tears of fear well up in your eyes as you think of home and your warm bed. You stop running and shut your eyes tight whispering to yourself; “This is just a dream. This is just a dream.” You concentrate hard on waking up, and open your eyes. You feel your blood drain from your body and pure dread grips your lungs, removing all breath from your body as you hear a slow, ominous creak from behind you. The darkness is still very much surrounding you, and the icy air scratching at your face confirms the horror that you are not dreaming. Turning slowly, you see the door to the house behind you is ajar. Shadows seep out from the crack and creep towards you. In a moment of horrified panic, your legs freeze up but as the shadows only visible in your mind sneak ever closer, you convince yourself to run. You don’t know where you’re heading any more, but as you run you see more open doors, you feel more creatures, more things follow on. Glancing back you see them. Tall figures, almost humanoid, are stood still yet somehow also following. You try your hardest to speed up but your legs cannot move any quicker. Tears are cascading down your cheeks and your heart feels ready to burst through your chest. The smell of stale air suffocates you and suddenly you hear them. You hear the whispers and groans that complete the unadulterated fear squeezing your heart. Incomprehensible, vile whispers spit at you, enveloping your ears. Vicious claws reach out for you, fully intent on causing harm and destruction. You can sense the pure feeling of evil reaching out for you, wanting you, hoping to deliver you to death. With every backwards glance, the figures draw progressively closer. The night falls deeper into blackness. Your vision becomes restricted, your breathing is tight. You gasp for air as your exhausted legs tumble beneath you, carrying you forward with all the pace they can muster. As you begin to glance backwards again, you stop short when you see razor-sharp teeth beside you, grinning psychotically and dripping with hunger. They lash out to bite you and just scratch your arm as you recoil and lose your balance. Falling to the ground again you cower, hiding behind your arms and sobbing. For a long while, nothing happens. You raise your head and peek out from behind your arm to pitch blackness. Your vision is gone, you see nothing, you hear nothing. Terrified and perplexed, you feel consciousness slowly slipping through your fingers. Mentally grasping at a metaphorical rope, you try your best to stay awake but your fight is in vain. Slumping gently down, reality itself runs away from you, the complete dead of the night lulling you gently to sleep. The warmth of the sun hits your face and you bolt upright in bed, sweating profusely and straining to catch your breath. Resting your hand on your bare chest, you feel your heart beating rapidly and cold flushes run up and down your spine. Looking around your room, you realise everything is normal and a tidal wave of relief washes over your entire mind, body, and spirit. Now convinced it was just a bad dream, you let out a small, nervous laugh and throw the duvet to one side. Following your normal morning routine, you swing your legs out and scratch an irritating itch on your arm, only to recoil in pain as your run your fingernail over some unexplained gouges resembling a bite. The wave of relief retreats back into the ocean of anxiety as your heart refuels itself with panic. You hop out of bed and rush to the blinded window, throwing aside the curtains and staring blankly at the street outside. Only the blackness of the night and unfamiliar houses greet you. There is no sun. The trees are bare. An aimless soul is clutching their shoulders on the street below.