The first thing I remembered when I opened my eyes was the complete darkness, not even a speck of light to allow my eyes to adjust. I wondered if I was blind as I rubbed at my eyes, willing them to see. I searched my mind trying to work out how I had gotten there, but I couldn’t remember a thing. Sitting up I concentrated on switching on all of my other senses. I could feel dry leaves and branches all around me and I could smell the musty dirt, but I couldn’t hear anything. There was nothing but an eerie, deathly kind of silence all around, surrounding me and slowly closing in. My mind registered the panic but strangely I did not feel my heart beating through my chest or pounding in my ears. It struck me that something was very, very wrong.
I closed my eyes again hoping that I would wake up from this bad dream. Because that’s surely what this was. But when I opened them I was still in the same dark place.
‘Well, well, what do we have here? Are you a new one?’ The voice of a man said.
I hadn’t heard him coming, not even a leaf rustling or a twig snapping under foot, but I could sense that he was standing close to me, even though I couldn’t make out his features or feel his breath in my face. I jumped up and stepped back, hitting what felt like a tree. I was unsure of what to do. My mind was screaming for me to run, but the messages didn’t seem to be getting through to my legs and I felt helpless.
‘Leave her alone, Terry.’
I jumped again as I heard a lady’s voice from somewhere behind this man. Again I hadn’t heard anyone approach. I backed further against my tree. It should have been scraping my back but it didn’t hurt at all. Then the lady came in to view. There was a strange, pale grey light surrounding her and I blinked as my eyes adjusted for the first time. She was old but beautiful, with crystal blue, almond shaped eyes and a heart shaped face. Her white hair hung in waves around her shoulders. I wondered where the light was coming from and thought perhaps it was the moon, but when I chanced a look upwards I could see that the sky was completely black and there was no sign of the moon anywhere. I shivered, violently, though strangely I wasn’t cold.
‘Catherine Hutchins. Might’ve known you’d come flying in to the rescue,’ the man said.
‘Come now, Terry, you know that’s what I do.’
‘Not for people like me, you don’t.’
‘No, but some people deserve to be here and others don’t.’
I felt the tension in the air, but then the lady turned to me and smiled and I was momentarily stunned by her beauty. Her eyes held me and I couldn’t move or speak, but as she stepped towards me, I broke away from her stare and came to my senses.
‘Stay away from me,’ I whispered, in a voice that sounded nothing like my own. But finding the courage to speak flicked a switch somewhere deep inside me. I turned from them and ran.
Once I was away from the two of them, I was in the darkness again. I thought surely I would run into a tree and hurt myself or fall over a branch and break my ankle but there didn’t seem to be anything in my way. I ran and ran until I felt sure that I had put some distance between us and I prayed that I would reach a road and be able to flag down a passing car. After a while I stopped to try and work out where I was and to check if anything or anyone was following me and was surprised by the fact that I wasn’t even out of breath.
‘There, there, my dear. No use trying to run away now, I’m afraid. There’s nowhere for you to go to.’
I was routed to the spot as I realised that the voice behind me was that of the lady I had just worked so hard to run away from. How did she catch up to me so fast, and why did I not hear her coming?
‘Aimee, dear, please look at me.’
And she knew my name. Panic and fear overwhelmed me once more and I began running again. I was in the worst kind of nightmare. I just had to hope that I would wake up soon and this would all be over. I told myself that over and over as I kept running, but every time I stopped, the lady would appear in front of me. The nightmare just kept on and on.
After what seemed like an endless amount of time I couldn’t run anymore. Not because I was tired, but because I knew that this was never going to end and I wasn’t going to wake up. I was trapped and I had no control over whatever was going to happen to me.
‘What do you want from me?’ I said, squaring up to the lady with as much bravado as I could manage.
‘I don’t want anything from you, Aimee. I just want to help you,’ she said.
‘How do you know my name?’
‘It’s my job to know. I knew you were coming and I’ve been waiting for you.’
I was confused. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, not knowing what to say. ‘I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know where I am or how I got here. I just want to go home. You can’t keep me here forever, you know. My family will come looking for me. They’ll get the police.’
‘Aimee you’re in shock and it’s my job to look after you now that you are here and help you settle into your new life.’ The lady had her arms outstretched towards me and she sounded so kind that my only conclusion was that she was crazy.
‘What do you mean new life? I have a life already. Why would I want to stay here? I’d rather be dead.’
The lady looked straight back at me with a seriousness that had me paralysed.
‘But that’s the problem, Aimee,’ she said. ‘You can’t go back because you are dead already.’