"Help! Help! Help!"
Ben was screaming out in fear. A fear that chilled him to the bone. Nothing in all his 29 years even came close to the terror he was feeling tonight.
At the top of his lungs, he was begging for someone, anyone, to come and save him.
But no one did.
Except for him.
Ben had no idea who he was, how he got in, or what he wanted. But there he stood. A mysterious, shapeless figure in the shadow of the doorframe. Motionless and watching. Despite being no more than a vaguely humanoid silhouette, the air of malintent radiating from them was suffocating. Choking Ben with every gasp of breath he took.
After a burglary at his childhood home, where his dad had been hospitalised by the masked intruder, Ben had developed deep anxiety around home security. It was the driving force behind his career path. Making sure that other children never have to experience the terror he did. The therapy helped, but it took years of hard work to stop him from being a constant anxious wreck. Now, he gets by with manageable OCD. Checking the doors and windows three times is usually enough to allow him a good nights sleep.
Yet, on this dark, silent evening, here this enshrouded figure stood. Exuding a vile, menacing power that crippled Ben to a quivering mess.
A tight grip had taken its hold over Ben’s body. “He’s going to kill me!” Ben thought to himself, panicking with an avalanche of fear and hopelessness thundering around his brain.
“HELP! PLEASE! HELP!” he screamed as he realised the grasp on him had cemented him in place. It felt as though he was ensnared in a straightjacket. Unable to move. Unable to run away. Even if he could run, where would he run to? He was trapped!
The panic was making Ben sick. The sound of his heartbeat was thumping like a marching band not just in his chest, but pounding in the depths of his skull. Sweat poured down his face, leaving a salty pool on his lips. Or was it the tears? He wasn’t sure. It all tasted the same, anyway!
The pit in his stomach was so heavy that he wasn’t sure if he was going to throw up, wet himself or lose his bowls entirely where he sat.
The figure approached closer. Silently, motionless, as if it were floating, not walking. Not that Ben could say for sure, for his eyes, frozen wide open, were glazed over with the dread that enveloped him. But he could definitely sense it closing in.
When the figure was within touching distance, Ben let out one last blood-curdling cry for help. If no one came to his rescue now, this was the end.
“Ben?” A quiet voice seeped through the atmosphere calmly.
Someone had heard him. He screamed out again. The scream sounded weird this time. Oddly muted and as though someone else was saying it. Someone who could not speak properly. Someone talking in their sleep.
“Ben. Ben! Hey, wake up, honey! You’re having a nightmare!” A hand gently rocked him, rousing his senses.
“A nightmare? But I’m not asleep!” he thought. He could feel the blanket wrapped around him. The touch of the arm on the sofa. He could hear the gentle ticking of the clock on the wall, and the soft crackle of the last embers in the fireplace. He was aware of all these things the whole time!.
And this person? Creeping and watching them. Closing in with evil malice.
It was all real. It had to be!
With Jenny’s gently stirring words and caring touch drifting away, Ben felt his body suddenly release from the dreadful grip of whatever was holding him moments before.
Sitting up quickly, bolt up-right, wide-eyed and drenched in sweat, Ben looked around and saw no evidence of the intruder, or any signs that anyone except the couple was present.
“Are you ok?” Jenny asked softly.
Thinking back to the claustrophobic, ominous experience that appeared no more, Ben took a deep breath, sighed and nodded somewhat unconvincingly.
“I think so”, he whimpered.
“It’s ok, sweetie. It was just a bad dream”, she assured him in her calm and soothing voice. Jenny was a primary school teacher by trade, whose parents were both psychotherapists. She considered doing the same as them while she was growing up. But decided at university that instead of helping just those in need, she wanted to help all children grow up with the right tools and support from the beginning. Being calm and nurturing came naturally to her, and the benefits were evident both inside and outside the classroom. Though Jenny turned away from being a therapist, she helped Ben make significant progress when they first started living together.
Jenny reminded Ben, “The rescue team said they will be here by morning today.”
Thank God, he thought. It had only been three days since the newlyweds had become trapped in their friend’s chalet. An unusually heavy snowfall had become unstable and an avalanche surrounded the cabin by dinner time of their first day. Not quite the romantic getaway they had hoped for, and the confinement was beginning to take its toll on Ben in particular.
With Ben still shaken by the experience and not wanting to go back to sleep just yet, Jenny offered him some hot chocolate to help calm him down. Upon returning from the kitchen with two steaming mugs of the finest Belgian hot chocolate, a gift from Ben’s sister, the heavy wooden front door rattled with a powerful banging.
“OH! That must be them, Ben! Must not have been so bad from the outside!” Jenny hurriedly placed the drinks down on the coffee table and went to let the rescue party in.
“And not a moment too soon”, Ben chuckled, taking a sip of his hot chocolate and burning his lip. But it didn’t matter. He was about to be free to go back home and reconsider an alternative honeymoon in a warmer climate. One that didn't have avalanches!
The door creaked open, prompting Ben to look up to greet the dedicated crew who had worked tirelessly, and surprisingly, quietly through the night to free them from the snowy honeymoon prison.
But instead of brightly coloured jackets and lights and groups of people ready to aid them, he saw someone else. Someone familiar. Someone he met earlier tonight.
He wasn’t being rescued…