Written by: Peter McSweeney (Chinese/English Translation and Interpreting, 2011)
It was late. I was tired. The winter holiday had just started and the undergraduates had not long gone. I left the bar at Cripps Hall a little tipsy after one too many drinks. I suppose being a senior tutor, I was meant to set a good example. The younger students weren’t here anymore though. So, to hell with it, I’d thought.
On leaving the warmth of the hall bar, I stumbled up the steps, through the main square, and then out towards the eastern side of the complex where my block was. On reaching my door, I elected to go for a walk. It would give me a chance to clear my head.
The lush greenery of the trees and grassy hillocks had been corroded by the harsh winter cold, and an eerie fog had descended adding an additional chill to the air. Still, the campus was picturesque, and as I made my way along the lonely path I felt somewhat refreshed by the cool air.
My senses were alerted still further by the presence of a stranger up ahead. The hood of his long coat was pulled up and he was standing perfectly still. Why wasn’t he moving?
A chill ran up my spine as I realised why: he was watching me.
I backed off, startled by the idea that anyone would wish to do me harm, and yet this was the impression the strange figure gave me. As I retreated, his head moved slightly upwards. In that instance, a moon beam happened to fall across his face and I caught a glimpse of his features. He had a sharp, aquiline nose and high cheekbones; but it was the eyes which caught my attention. Perhaps it was a trick of the light? But I was certain they were burning red.
My heart leapt and I stumbled as I made to flee, my feet slipping on the icy pathway. I daren’t look back, but I was certain he was moving toward me. My shoes finally gripped on the road and I lunged forward, eyes fixed on Cripps up ahead. I must make it inside, I thought. I must get to safety.
On reaching the door to my block I punched in the security code, my fingers shaking, my mind screaming at them to hold steady long enough to enter the numbers. I flung open the door, dashed through and then slammed it behind me. I raced up the three flights of stairs before locking myself away in my flat.
I stood there panting, wondering what on earth it was I had just seen.
My head was awash with strange and unnerving thoughts.
I moved through the flat closing the curtains as I went, fumbling in the dark because I dare not turn on the lights. I didn’t want him to know in which room I resided.
Gradually, human curiosity got the better of me and I deigned to take a peek through the curtains in my bedroom. My room looked out in the direction of Lenton Hall and the path along which I had just fled. I saw no sign of the stranger.
Moving back into my small living room, I used the light from my phone to find the vodka which I kept on a shelf opposite the TV. I poured myself a large glass. The walk had certainly sobered me up, but right now I needed something to calm me down. I sat on the sofa and drank. The warmth of the liquor went someway to relaxing me, and by the time I reached the bottom of the glass I found that my hands had stopped shaking. I also began questioning what I’d seen.
I returned to the bedroom where I once again peered out. The glow from the sparse street lights lit up the way along which I had run, and the path remained reassuringly void of human life.
I let the curtain fall back into place and let out a sigh of relief. I switched on the lamp next to the bed and got ready to sleep. A few minutes later, I lay down and closed my eyes. Within seconds I had lapsed into a deep but uneasy sleep.
I dreamt of my room. The wind was howling outside, the window and the rain was pelting against the glass. Slowly, the sash began to rise. I became aware that someone was coming into the room through the window.
Two hands appeared, sliding under the raised sash, followed quickly by a head which raised its gaze to meet mine. Those burning red eyes stared back at me, full of sneering and rage.
I tried to scream, but I was mute. I tried to lift myself up, but I was paralysed.
The figure continued his climb through the window, his movements like that of a spider’s. He continued on all fours once he reached the floor, and I lost sight of him for a few moments as he disappeared behind the end of the bed. Seconds later, a hand appeared by my foot, then another, and then the head.
He worked his way along the bed towards my face. I was overcome with terror. I tried to squirm. I tried to yell. But I was powerless. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as the stranger moved his face over mine and stared down into my eyes.
I awoke drenched in sweat, the sunlight seeping in through the curtains. I was bolt upright. Still shaking from the shock of the vivid nightmare, I rolled my feet off the edge of the bed. I felt a pain in the side of my neck, and when I touched it I realised it was bleeding. I must have cut myself dreaming.
I felt a cold breeze and I shivered. I looked back to where the sun was peeping into the room. The curtains were flapping slightly. The window was open.