I have longed for the night. I can hide with my comfort blanket of darkness engulfing me. No one will come in and disturb me. I have many hours of peace ahead. I sprawl out on the orange mattress on the balcony and brave the crisp wind, my face gazing up at the indigo ink blot sky, watching the swirls of the clouds blink, blink, blink and then sleep, blotting out the mischievous twinkle of the stars. The smoke from my cigarette twirls and dances like a fluid ballerina up and up to meet the sky, changing colour like a chameleon from silver-white, to pale blue, to black. When it’s finished, I let my eyes droop until I dream of faces that merge and expand, their features elongating and shrivelling, then winding around and looping through each other, hooking on to coiling snake-like entities that shimmer and slide past my vision.
I awake and find my fingers exploring the hoods of my eyes, yet again, pushing my eyeballs down until I see lightening bolts of white that illuminate my brain like flaming comets. What am I searching for? The once delicate tissue films of skin underneath my eyes feel scaly and dry. I try to resist picking at their brittleness but as I trace the rough texture with my fingertip, I feel exhilarated as they touch my skin. I know that if I can scrape them off with my nails I will feel clean again, pure, the horror and ugliness will wash away down the plughole. I will stand there at the sink, my tears merging with the feeble trickle of tap water as I scrub my nails with the green lotion. My hot tears always sting my eyes. The delicate exposed flesh that I have gauged burns. I scream. Trembling, I clutch the sides of the sink, the dark outline of the mirror on the wall looming in front of me. There is a thick, weave cloth draped across it. I know why it’s there, but I can’t remember who put it there. I can lift it, I can tear it down, but I don’t want to. The face that I see reflected in it will consume me. It will be so terrifying to look at that I will wish I had slid my whole body down the plughole, clinging to the remnants of my flesh, lost forever in the nothingness of death.
Instead, I sit up and hug my knees tightly to my chest. I shiver as I untie my indian shawl from around the wrought iron of the balcony, wrapping it tightly around my shoulders. I roll a cigarette, noticing how low my supply is getting. My ration has been spent for the month but I can’t get through the rest of the night without just one last smoke to calm my nerves. The night is silent. I hear a welcome nothing, not even the faint coo of the owl that sometimes lulls me to sleep. I stare out across the gardens. The outlines of the wild unkempt trees and bushes are only recognisable by subtle nocturnal tones and shapes that sway gently in the breeze.
Then I hear something.
My heart jolts as I turn to look into my room. There’s something in there. Again, a shuffling noise and what sounds like breathing. I prepare myself to stand up, adrenalin seeping into my veins. Someone laughs. A soft giggle that fades into a long contented sigh. Murmuring. A different voice. Then anger fights the adrenalin as I realise someone has let themselves in to my room, my haven, the one place that I can call my own. I don’t know much about this place I live in, I don’t remember one face from another, but I know that it’s my space and no one else is allowed in it. I am on my feet now, entering my room to face them.
Silence. Only my footsteps as I trace the perimeter of the room with my eyes. Nothing and no one.
I don’t know if these noises are spirits of the dead in this macabre building or ghosts alive in my head.