The air around me is thick, almost feels heavy. My heart beats hard, fast, pounding against my rib cage.
It’s dark, cramped. A small space. Damp, with a putrid odour of rotten soil and excrement. I don’t know how I came to be in here; I don’t know the way out.
I scratch at a wall with my fingers. Dirt cakes under my fingernails. I lift my hand to my nose, sniff. It’s shit. Fresh.
There’s no response. But I can hear breath. Someone—or something—taking short gasps. I crawl further along on my hands and knees, and finally I see a speck of light. A pin prick. Exhausted, I rest, leaning on the curved wall. I’m in a tunnel.
A memory snags in my mind. Fists, feet, balaclava. I shake my head, try to shift the recollection.
I hear the breaths again; louder, heavier, closer. Whatever else is in this tunnel with me is right behind me.
Silence deafens the space around me. Even the breathing ceases. There’s a warmth emanating from my right. I hold my breath, terrified, but begin to creep towards the light.
My name! Someone is calling me. It’s faint, scratchy. Far away. My hands and knees work of their own accord, faster, more determined to reach the light.
A low growl comes from behind me. I stop crawling, remain still, holding my breath again.
‘Flora? Where are you?’ The voice is different this time: a female. Perhaps it’s a search party. I’m closer to where they are. I can’t respond. Sounds trap in my throat.
I feel something press on my back. The growl sounds meaner, sharper, like I can hear its teeth grind. Claws pierce the skin on my back. My mouth opens wide. But I am voiceless.
My body is rocking back and forth. The pressure on my back is firm, not sharp.
‘Wake up. You’re having a bad dream.’
I open my eyes. My jaw is clenched tight; my left ear aches and my head is throbbing.
‘Honey, are you OK? Sounds like a bad one.’ Terri says.
‘It was,’ I say to her, sitting up, glancing around the room. I blink as Terri turns on the bedside lamp. ‘I was in like a tunnel. With something. A tiger perhaps. Don’t know. But it was about to attack me.’
She places her arm around me, pulls me in tight against her. ‘You’re safe. I’m here with you. I’ll always be here with you.’
‘Someone was calling me. Looking for me.’ I remember hearing my name. ‘Sounded far off.’
Terri chuckles. ‘It was probably me. I’ve been trying to wake you for five minutes.’
Terri holds me until my breathing becomes regulated. Her grip loosens and we rest side-by-side. She holds my gaze, kisses me. Her lips soft, warm. I lose myself in the feeling of her naked skin, her breasts pressing into mine. The gentle rubbing of her hands up and down my spine. Goosebumps tingle all over. It all feels so right, normal, safe. Then, unbidden, my mind sees fists, feet, balaclava. I become hot and clammy; I pull away from Terri.
‘What is it?’ she asks.
The memory snags. Beckons me to somewhere in my past. ‘Nothing,’ I tell Terri. Turning over, so my back is facing her and signalling clearly that our moment is over. ‘I’m going to sleep.’
‘Honey, don’t do that. Don’t shut me out.’
But I can’t tell her. Those fists and feet, that balaclava, all mean something so depraved from my past. It’s blurry, but it’s better that way. My mind has blocked it for a reason, and therefore, I shouldn’t let it into this relationship. Otherwise, it will unravel.
‘Flora, come on. Let me in. Give me all of you.’ She’s trying to turn me to face her again, but I set myself rigid. She spoons me; her hand on my belly. Seconds later, it trails lower, between my legs.
I stifle a moan. Let her fingers explore me. I want…her. I want to give in, give her all of me. And I want to remember, to share it with her. But I can’t. It’s too big.
Despite my body’s response to her, I push her hand away. ‘No!’ I say. I can’t. I can’t risk what we have.