It was a dream. It had to be a dream. A nightmare. She closed her eyes and took ten deep breaths, just like her mother had told her to when she was scared. Then it would go away.
She softly counted down under her breath, trying to ignore the shuffling outside the door. There was nothing to be afraid of in the dark, Daddy had told her so. It was all just silly bits of her imagination coming to life.
Finally, the ten seconds were over and she slowly peeped out from underneath her eye lids. The shuffling hadn't stopped, and in the dim of her wooden bedroom, she could still make out the hunched skeletal frame that she did not know through the doorway, knelt by the side of her parents' bed. The putrid odour that had followed it inside still lingered.
There was an empty space on the bed where her father usually lay. But he was away now, at a market in a neighboring town. The long, silvery hair of her mother lay peacefully across the pillow next to the familiar, empty expanse. She was soundly asleep. Deeply, deeply asleep.
The rustling breath of the hunched figure rattled through the small house, a hooded cloak hiding its face in inky darkness. It reached out a bone-thin hand and dragged it across the chest of her mother. Holding its fingers out like precious objects, the figure straightened with a rattle and turned to face her open door. With achingly slow movements, she cautiously watched as it dragged its body across the small hallway, and into her room.
Delicately, the figure took the bloody substance that coated its fingers and scrawled something on the wall across from her prone body. The flickering of the dying cabin fire danced across the wood, making the words indecipherable as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
With deathly slowness, the figure turned and made towards her bed. Frozen in fear, she squeezed her eyes tight and pretended to be asleep. There was no one coming to help her. She was alone in the safest place in the world.
She fought to keep her breathing steady as she felt the soft breeze of movement against her skin. The figure crouched down and, with one creaking movement, slid beneath her bed. She felt the frame rock as they crawled underneath her helpless form.
She continued to breathe evenly, trying with all her might not to retch as the rotting stench latched to the intruder filled her head. She silently begged her mother to wake and save her. How could she not know her child was in danger? Her parents had always promised to be there for her, and now her mother just lay there, asleep.
She feared the shuddering of her heart would give her away. The pounding was so loud; how could the figure not know she had seen him?
Fighting to suppress the rising panic, she once again slowly opened her eyes. The darkness didn't seem so dark now. She could make out the dripping words on the wall opposite.'I know that you're awake.'