What am I to do? The door to the secret passageway I found earlier has vanished. I have already tried searching for the catch with one hand hidden surreptitiously behind my back whilst pretending to drink from my water glass. The entire painted wall is now a seamless solid panel. Access that way has been cut off! Whilst brushing my hair I use the opportunity to toss my head around, trying to appear nonchalant, but frantically scanning every corner of the room for other ideas.
In the dark gloom of the night, outside the glass doors on the balcony, I sense more than visualize the somehow threatening outline of a huge giant of a man. His head is completely shaved apart from a straggly pony-tail and he is so brawny he does not seem to possess a neck. Huge arms firmly crossed across his toned chest, the sleeves of his pristine white T shirt strain to cover bulging biceps. His features look foreign. Asian? Maybe Japanese? He reminds me of some kind of intimidating Sumo wrestler. He has been crouching there, squatting on his haunches silently yet with infinite patience in the shadows against the wall since sunset. In all that time, his head has not moved an inch, but I feel him observing me constantly, just waiting for me to give him the smallest chance to uncross those powerful arms and pounce upon me.
Under different circumstances, I might have found that muscular chest clearly suggesting a solid six-pack of pure strength rather attractive, but not here, not now. His ominous presence is too threatening and I am becoming increasingly scared of him. The expression on the Big Man’s face seems menacing, despite his mean features remaining totally immobile. His monolidded eyes are glued to a fixed spot straight ahead, but I know he is aware of my every move. Any attempt to escape that way via the balcony will prove impossible for sure.
The solid oak door to the corridor outside this small, square room seems to be beckoning to me. Could it possibly have been left unlocked? Might that be the way out of here? I must not show any expression of hope on my face or the Big Man might see. There are framed pictures on the wall: awful, amateurish forest scenes and prettily twee coastlines in weak, faded watercolours which I pretend to admire, cocking my head on one side and scrutinizing the details as I’ve seen people do in art exhibitions. As I examine each picture, I start gradually making my way towards the brown and black striped door, creeping ever so carefully in the direction of my longed-for freedom.
The Big Man is suddenly only about a metre away from me. He is now standing squarely in front of the door barring the way, still with those intimidating arms crossed across his chest. He is grinning at me, but in an eerily smug sort of way. At his full height, he looks well over two metres tall. He must have guessed my intention. I cannot retreat though. I just know that would be a fatal mistake. This is it! It is now or never, my only chance. I have got to be brave! I tell myself I can do it if I really try. Words from my mum and long-gone childhood suddenly ring out from nowhere,
“Never be afraid of anyone, Babe. You can do anything if you really want to, you know!”
I must keep moving at all costs, but keep it slow and deliberate. The regular ticking of the clock, the gentle insignificant hum of the heater, the distant drone of heavy traffic speeding by on the highway outside all simply fade away to nothing. I somehow manage to swallow, hold in my breath, stretch out my hand and steel myself for the impact. There is a thunderous, pounding noise in my ears. My stomach is in knots.
There is NO impact!
I cannot believe my own eyes. My hand reaches straight through him, directly to the handle and I yank downwards, dragging it inwards with all the force I can muster. But it is not heavy at all! The flimsy door flies open knocking me off balance, the frail barrier swinging around like cardboard. Beyond, lies my freedom. The sound of his demented laughter suddenly ricochets round the room, sending shivers fluttering down my spine. It is a cackling, nasty laugh. No time to waste here, I have to flee!
I hurtle away from that place without knowing or caring which way to run. I’m heading left, chased by the awful sound of his sinister sniggering. It is not a raucous belly laugh, not a guffaw either, but it is far from a friendly chuckle. It is the kind of gleeful, smirky snigger a cat might make if it could, when toying with a terrified, cornered mouse.
Ahead, lies a long, empty corridor with scores of identical doors lining both sides. Floor, ceiling and walls are all painted a dazzling clinical white. It resembles a hospital. The thudding of my bare feet on the glacial ceramic tiles seems muffled, and I have the bizarre thought that the sound is being absorbed by the walls themselves. I almost miss a sudden turning to my right and belatedly grab hold of the wall, hurling myself blindly round the corner, both arms flailing as I recover my step. There is a staircase in front of me and I hesitate. Do I go up or down?
I am too slow! The Big Man has leapt from the floor above and landed without a sound on all fours in front of me, his head low to the ground with both of his unblinking, slanted eyes fixated on me. They are black, predatory eyes; it is an almost reptilian stare. I am unable to look away. Like a rabbit caught in a headlight, I am powerless to move; my limbs are paralyzed. As he inches forward, preparing to pounce, his nostrils quiver. He smells my fear. I shrink away and down into myself.
He lunges. I shriek. The predator has his prey.
His icy fingers surround my neck in a steely grip. Some deep-rooted instinct within me awakens the will to retaliate and I begin grappling for my life. My thrashing fingers find his face and I succeed in raking my nails across the side of his cheek. He bellows in rage then squeezes harder. A foggy greyness hovering at the outside edges of my vision grows darker and thicker. He jerks his hands and then there is only blackness! And silence.
I swim and the world spins. An intense brightness. A kaleidoscope of colours.
I struggle to open my eyes and make out the familiar outline of a photo frame by my bed. This apparition of normality calms me slightly, but I am still shaking and my head is thumping. I stagger to the bathroom to wash my clammy hands and splash my face with cold water. There, I do a double-take at my reflection in the mirror. Winding all around my throat is a narrow ribbon of furious, reddish purple bruising. Incredulous, I bring up my hand to touch my damaged skin and wince. I notice my fingers. There is blood. An unpleasantly sticky mass of bloody gunge clogged underneath the nails. I suddenly feel extremely faint. Then, just as I am about to turn on the cold water tap I freeze in dread. An icy snake of terror slithers up my spine as I become aware of a malevolent presence. I perceive a shadow in the far corner of the bathroom. It is the Big Man! Here, in my bathroom. He is crouching beside our shower in much the same position as he was on the balcony earlier, and he is smirking at me. There are now three angry-looking score marks running from his left ear to his nose.
Terror-stricken, I back out of the bathroom and run. I struggle and scrabble with the latch to open the door to the garden, only to find it is not our garden. I find myself in a thick forest of some weird kind of bamboo plant whose tips tower high above me, entwining themselves into a messy vegetal rooftop, drowning out the sunlight. I have to breathe in to squeeze between the smooth gigantic trunks, each one easily the size of a man’s thigh. It is as if I am moving in slow motion and the Big Man’s insane laughter continues to echo all around me. As I try to advance further, I become more and more entangled in this impenetrable green prison. My legs are now totally enmeshed in a cluster of smaller shoots, hundreds of fine tendrils entwined around my shins. I am trapped, unable to move another inch,
‘Help me!’ I I scream, ‘Help me somebody, please! I’m stuck!’
I jerk bolt upright, the bed sheet coiled tightly round my legs. Well I suppose that explains me feeling trapped, I attempt to reason.
But wait! Why is my heart is still pounding like that? I notice the door handle beginning to move and with a sense of foreboding, I become aware of the Big Man’s threatening presence once again.
‘No! Please! No! This can’t really be happening? Please, please tell me it can’t.’
I try to take flight but my legs refuse to obey. Thunderous laughter erupts all around, coming closer, getting louder. The intense pressure on my eardrums is too painful. My bedroom door is opening!
Here we go again...