Edwin’s outstretched fingers brushed through icy water. He stifled the cry that threatened to betray him. If only he could remember where he was; remember why he was there; remember what he was running from. A blackness of time stretched into the surrounding darkness. There were sounds in the silence, sounds that he could not identify. He wondered if there were bats in the darkness, and shuddered. Bats inhabit dark places: caves, broken down buildings, railway tunnels. His mind caught at the words as his fingers found and caught at a projection in the wall they were following.
Where was he? His mind worried at the caves, buildings, railway tunnels. Perhaps he was in a mine shaft. Progress was slowed by his effort to make no sound; his feet stumbled on the uneven surface, toes cringing when he stepped on a sharp object. Where were his shoes? He didn’t remember removing them, but he had been walking – creeping – for so long he had forgotten when he had started and what it was like then. His socks were wet.
Tenuous fingers found space. He stopped, hand swinging erratically up and down, back and forth. Space, only space. He took a step back, and another. Where was the wall? Was there a hole, a niche, a corner? Panic cramped his stomach; terror tore at his throat. He crouched, feeling at the surface below his feet. There was nothing in front of him. His mind refused to accept this: he had stepped back, twice, from a solid footing. He had not turned or stepped aside. He felt to one side: a handbreadth from his foot there was nothing. Vertigo set in. What was on the other side? Tentatively he stretched out the other hand. There was nothing.
His chest was distended with the indrawn breath. Something brushed his face. The scream started growing and filling the space around him. He hugged himself into a ball and froze while the sound beat at him. His fingers dug into his ears. The scream grew louder.
Hands snatched at him. Light flooded the room. His mother stood in the doorway with her hand on the light switch. His father lifted him from a tangle of bedclothes and blew into his face. The scream gulped into a sob and he buried his face in his father’s shoulder, clinging desperately.
His mother beckoned, “Come to the kitchen; I’ll make him a warm drink.”
While she busied herself his father lowered himself into a nearby rocker.
“Tell me about it, Edwin. What happened?”
“I don’t know.” He shuddered. “It was chasing me and I couldn’t get away.”
“What was chasing you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where were you?”
The boy pushed himself back to look into his father’s eyes. Desperation distorted his face.
“I don’t know. I couldn’t see. It was too dark. There was no light anywhere.”
His mother folded a cup into his hands, keeping her hands around his until she was sure it was secure. “Drink this, Edwin. You’ve had a nightmare, that’s all. Perhaps it was because of those caves where they turned off all the lights when we were right inside – I know that frightened you.”
Edwin lowered the cup. Milk moustached his upper lip.
“It was like that, Mum, but worse. It was chasing me but I couldn’t see it in the dark, and there were noises but I didn’t know what they were, and ...”
His father felt the tension building again in the small body. He repeated his question, “What was chasing you, Edwin?”
Mother caught the falling cup. Small fists beat his father’s chest.
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I was so frightened...”
Father caught the flailing fists, drawing the ten year old closer.
“I think I know what was chasing you, Edwin. It was fear. Fear does that. It can look like a dinosaur or a big dog. When you get older it can look like loneliness or debt or illness. When we need help your mother and I pray. Jesus chases fear away and brings light when things are dark.”
“Does Jesus know about nightmares?”
His father reached for the Bible. “Let’s read Psalm 91. ‘You shall not be afraid for the terror by night ...’
Edwin relaxed listening to his father read the familiar passage; his eyes closed and his breathing slowed into sleep. His parent returned to their bed, tucking him securely between them until the sun brought the morning light.
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