The Worst Fear Excerpt Chapter One
2 min Read
Three Years Later
The digital clock glowed next to her pillow, bright enough to illuminate her face in a deep shade of darkroom red. It was the only light in the inky stillness of her tiny studio, and the only one that mattered. There was no getting around it was the dead of night and she was wide awake. Again.
Madison stared fixedly at the red numbers with haunted eyes, unable to move yet trembling uncontrollably. Her entire body was quivering beneath the sheet; not convulsing like a grand mal seizure or epileptic fit, but quaking all the same. Like always, she had to wait for the sleep paralysis that came part and parcel with her nightmare to release its insidious grip. Each time was different; it took as long as it took.
Breathe, Madison. Breathe, damnit, breathe!! In and out -- how hard can it be?!
She lay there on her side, focusing on the one thing she had control over. After a few agonizing minutes, her breathing became less distressed, more regular, and she could feel her pounding heart slowing, her trembling subside, and her anxiety level dropping along with it. Eventually, she was able to roll onto her back and stare up at the ceiling, like a normal insomniac she told herself. She was so grateful to Dr. Katz for suggesting the breathing technique to help calm her when she came out of her night terror; it did make a difference.
When she was able to sit up, she pulled on her robe and made her way from her bed to her kitchenette, taking extra care in the near total darkness to navigate the maze of moving cartons that dotted her living space.
She huddled in her robe in the shadowy alcove, perched on her one decent chair at her pizza box-sized table. It was her favorite spot in her little apartment, the place where she felt the safest, the least alone. She was going to miss it.
The dream was coming more often now. Ever since she’d made the big decision to move, it seemed like. Whatever the cause, the unbearable was now even more so. She thought about that as she gazed out at the eastern sky, waiting for the first glimmers of dawn’s early light to show themselves. Waiting for the signal that she had managed to make it to the start of another day.
When the curtain of darkness was finally pulled back, Madison made herself get up and fix a bowl of yogurt and berries. She took a few spoonfuls then stopped; who was she kidding, she never had any appetite after her blood-spattered nightmare.
She set her bowl in the sink and surveyed her living space. The walls were bare; her few sticks of furniture, along with the floor lamp and her single bed tucked in the far corner had all been sold and would be picked up on the weekend. Everything she was taking with her -- her laptop and TV, clothes and a few personal effects -- was neatly packed in the moving cartons, ready to go. Her gaze lingered on four white bankers boxes arranged in a waist-high stack by the door. They were all sealed and ready to go, too.
Madison had been so proud of herself when she rented this place, almost two years ago now. It had been a big step for her, moving out of her family home, going out on her own. But it was something that had to be, especially once her mom had gone into hospice. She knew it wasn’t much of a place to call home, but it had been all that she could afford on what she cleared every month from the temp agency. Her mom had offered to help her with the rent, but she had declined, telling her mom that she was an adult now, a college graduate no less, and she needed to be able to show her mom, and herself, that she could manage her affairs on her own. Besides, what would Dad think if she was still living off the generosity of her family at twenty-three? As she had reminded her mom, by that age, he had already started his first company while still in law school, and had begun paying down his student loan to boot.
Madison reached over to the ledge next to the table and picked up the only personal touch not packed away: a 5x7 color photo in a cherrywood frame. She studied the image intently, like she had done a thousand times, a candid moment captured by her mom’s camera: Madison, age six, beaming proudly in her school uniform, hugging her grinning father, who looked particularly sharp in a suit and glasses. The background was fuzzy, but clear enough to make out, above their heads, the American Airlines logo and a sign that read ‘Check-In’.
Madison closed her eyes to reflect, as she did whenever she looked at that happy moment frozen in time. She sat there, perfectly still, remembering that hug like it was yesterday, the feeling she had, so warm and safe, held in her father’s arms. She cherished that memory like no other, and held it closest to her heart. Not just because of how, every time, it would conjure up those comforting emotions about her dad all these years later, but because it had turned out to be the last time she would ever see his smiling face, or tell him that she loved him, or hear his voice saying he loved her too.
She stayed lost in that memory for as long as she could, knowing too well that as soon as the moment passed, so too would the feeling she so coveted, and she would be left with an empty, aching void.
A sound made her open her eyes and turn to the window. It had started to rain. The type of sudden hard rain Bostonians saw most every June. The fat, full raindrops each made a distinct splat sound as they hit the glass, before running down the windowpane like so many tears.