Tobias opened his eyes suddenly, unsure of what had just happened. He looked at the digital clock his father had bought him two Christmas’ ago, when he had first mastered the art of telling the time. It cast an eerie green glow on the room, and the numbers stood illuminated in the light, seared into Tobias’ mind like a brand.
Twelve twenty-eight. It was after midnight. Some people called it the Witching Hour. Tobias didn’t like this, because it made him nervous. He had read a lot of scary books, and as with most children, he could imagine the characters vividly.
As if the thick duvet could protect him, he pulled it right over his entire body, smothering himself in the warmth radiating from his body. His breath grew faster as he imagined all the terrors – the sea monsters and the zombies – that waited just on the other side of this protective bubble. His ‘cosy zone’, as his mother called it, would keep him safe. He started singing to himself.
Three years ago, Tobias had been plagued with terrible nightmares, all of the same thing again and again, unmistakable once he experienced the terror, but completely ineffable as soon as he awoke. He frequently had woken up screaming out into the darkness, and this had disturbed not only himself, but his parents. Twice a week they would be jolted awake, either by the screams that echoed through the house, and the entire street, or Tobias himself tugging at the duvet, complaining of bad dreams. At such a young age, neither his mother or father had any issue with him climbing into bed with them, snuggled in between them and protected from the fear which lurked in the dark. But as he grew older, both parents realised that he would be getting a little too old for that, and so instead of allowing him into bed with them, his parents would alternate instances, accompanying him back to his bedroom, into bed, where they would sing or talk to him. Tobias would soon drift off, and this method of soothing lullabies and idle chit-chat was a successful remedy, which soon ridded Tobias of the worst of the nightmares.
Now, whenever Tobias was alone and afraid, he relived those times, and although he was unable to recall what his father would talk about as he slept, the soft tones of his mother’s singing calmed him, and this is why he sung to himself now.
After reciting the song twice, he stopped, silent. He had grown used to the singing, and was surprised to hear how deadly silent the night actually was. Normally, the group of terraced houses could hear everything that occurred within each and every one, but it seemed that tonight, everybody was sleeping. Not one creaking floorboard, not a single late night TV show blaring. It was deadly silent.
Tobias didn’t want to start singing again, because although it soothed his nerves, he knew that it would be impossible to get to sleep if he was concentrating on the words to the song.
But everything in the room was gathering around him, building up to the crescendo in which the beasts of the darkness pounced upon him, terrifying him. For that’s what he was afraid of. Not getting hurt, not getting killed. Simply being caught by surprise. He had to avoid being scared by the monsters in his bedroom.
In one quick motion, as if he were pulling off a plaster and exposing the wound to the air for the first time, Tobias whipped back the duvet, exposing his vulnerable torso, preparing for something to pounce on him, growling, screaming or generally looking scary. But he was relieved to see that nothing happened.
With a sudden jolt, he checked under the bed, and not wanting to be left exposed for too long, darted back under the covers as soon as he saw that there was nothing beneath, besides a few comics, a half-eaten lollipop from Halloween, and a dirty sock or two. He was in the clear.
Back in his cosy zone, Tobias focussed on the goal of the night: getting back to sleep.
Tobias threw his eyes open, desperate to not be caught off-guard. That was real enough. That Voice, it was real. It was the same as the one he had heard at lunchtime. The same exact Voice. It was louder now, but it was the same. He was definitely not imagining it.
‘Who’s that? Mum?’ Tobias called, quiet, so as not to evoke a response. Although he had asked a question, he did not want to get an answer, because if he got an answer from the Voice, it meant that the Voice was real, and that it could hear him.
The blood pumped around his entire body, pulsating in his ears, killing the horrible silence, but sounding even more ominous and intimidating. Maybe this would block out the Voice’s answer, he thought. Tobias waited.
The duvet was off the bed in a flash, and the whole house was illuminated by light as Tobias ran down the hall, screaming at the top of his lungs and flicking every light switch he came across on the way to his parents’ bedroom. They were already awake as he burst through the door; they had been woken by the screams, no doubt, and were apprehensive about whether or not their only child was okay.
Tears streamed quickly down Tobias’ face, slashing onto his mother’s night gown as she held him in her arms, slowly rocking him gently, and shushing him in the soothing tones that only she had mastered. Tobias closed his eyes, sobbing and fighting for breath, and he didn’t see his mother turn her head to look at her husband. Her concerned look was mirrored in his eyes. It had been a year and a half since Tobias’s last outburst that was even on the same scale as this one.There must have been a problem.