Wednesday, 17 June 2009 - 9:13 pm

Marshmallows in the dark

Sleeping arrangements have been awkward. The floor of the warehouse is hard and cold, and we can’t pile together any more. Injuries mean that it’s too uncomfortable and painful to huddle for warmth; it only takes one person to shift wrong in the middle of the night, nudge the wrong part of someone else, and then the yelp wakes everyone up.

Instead, we each have our own clutch of blankets in a ring around a makeshift fire pit. The concrete floor is at least safe enough to light a fire on, and broken-down crates and pallets burn quite well. We have heat and light, though both escape us far too easily in a room this size.

Maybe that was what gave me such disturbed sleep last night. I woke fitfully and kept falling back into the same dream, deeper and deeper, like a swimmer struggling to stay above the surface of the water. Each time I came up for air, I fell down further than before and it was harder to pull myself out again.


I’m alone and running. I don’t know where the others are or where these endless corridors led. They look familiar but I can’t place them – a scrap of mall, an angle of back hallway, half of an alleyway, all muddled together. They all seem to go somewhere, but there is always another turn, another stretch to cover. Every door I stop long enough to try is locked.

It’s nether light nor dark; a halflight lets me see enough to keep my footing and glimpse something to stretch for. There’s a red pall to everything and I wish for a glimpse of white. It feels like I’ve forgotten what true, pure white looks like.

Behind me, someone is following. I catch sight of him in the corner of my eye and hear his footsteps tap-tap-tapping their way through my head. I can’t make out anything about him – no details, no identity, no face at all. Just the pressure at my back, driving me forward, and his terribly slow footsteps. He’s no shambler; he moves with patient determination, unhurried. My noises fall messily against his, ragged breaths and skittering steps. I run as fast as I can, turn corners and wind around on myself, but he’s always there, pressing me forwards.

He’s gaining on me. Inexorably, the steady sound of his heels clipping on the floor approaches, driving my pulse higher and higher into my throat. I’m slipping. I’m exhausted, growing leaden as I push to keep on running. There has to be some way to get away from him, but there isn’t. He’s closing on me.

I don’t look back, but I feel him reaching out for me, fingertips at my back, stretching, almost….


I jerked awake with the sound of my own name in my head and my ears, inside and out. Struggling for breath as if I really had been running, it took me a moment to realise that Matt was there, stroking my hair. I must have whimpered in my sleep and he came over to make sure I was all right.

I apologised, but I leant into him when he put an arm around me. He just smiled and shook his head. His warmth was so welcome right then and I was only too happy to share in it, even though I felt like an idiot.

It’s not exactly surprising that we might have nightmares, not after everything that’s happened. What’s surprising is that this was the most vivid one I’ve had in a long time, and there wasn’t a shambler or drop of acid rain in it. I don’t know if that makes me more or less of a mess.

It’s stupid, how these dreams can affect us so badly. I could feel it there, riding under the surface, just waiting for me to slip back under. I could feel those fingers a breath from my back, no matter how hard I strained away from them.

“I don’t want to go back to sleep,” I told Matt. He shrugged and stayed with me, and we talked quietly about nothing while we watched the wood burn down into embers in the firepit.

For that short time, it felt like the time Before. He felt like my old friend, the one who would chatter on at anyone about anything; a comforting susurrus of words that always made me smile. It felt like we were camping, stuck out somewhere with no showers and a sad lack of marshmallows.

I woke up on his shoulder this morning; I don’t remember falling asleep on him. The chaser hadn’t come back.

I told Matt that he must be my lucky teddy bear and he laughed. I haven’t seen him look so honestly amused in a long time; it almost broke my heart.

“I can live with that,” he said.

I think we both can.