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His breath came in tearing sobs. Lungs exploding, small legs pumped, propelling him through the tangle of branches, the dark woods reaching for him, pulling him. The noise behind him. Coming faster, faster. He sprinted out of the yawning darkness and catapulted himself over the garden fence. Soft dirt clung to his feet, sucking at his shoes. The next moment he was on the porch, trembling fingers scrabbling and tearing at the door knob. Throwing a final frantic glance over his shoulder, he tumbled into the house.

From inside the bedroom closet he peered out through the door slats. His safe place. Nothing ever hurt him here. The eerie glow of the night light threw distorted shadows up the walls of the room. Pressing farther into the darkness of the closet, he trembled, hugging his arms to his chest. Slowly, the crescendo of pounding blood faded in his ears. His ragged breathing quieted as he listened.

Maybe he’d escaped. He leaned closer to the closet door, squinting. Maybe—

His heart stopped.

The window curtains on the far side of the room undulated in the night light’s blurred glow, the fabric heaving and falling in the dead air of the room. The window had to be open . . . that was it . . . it had to be—

Then he saw it. Hair. Black hair slowly filling the space between the trailing curtain edge and the floor.

It was coming in the window.

A rising panic clawed up the back of his throat threatening to explode into a scream, but he choked it, swallowed it into a horrible strangled whimper. Through the slats he could just see the window’s edge. A shrunken figure was moving slowly from the opening. A dark matted robe covered a twisted body. It moved in jerking, twitching hitches. Was it looking? No. It was smelling, sensing the room as it went. The hairs on the back of his head rose as the form neared the closet door, passed it, and disappeared. He realized he’d been holding his breath and let it escape in a low, painful whistle.

The closet door flew open. Framed in the doorway, his nightmare stood before him. His frantic scream choked in his throat as a cold, scabby hand shot out, grabbing the back of his neck. He had a momentary glimpse of a twisted face as he was yanked forward. A hollow rictus of death framed by black, greasy hair leered out from the cape’s dark opening. The distended mouth yawned open, toothless, a gaping cavity where the nose should have been, and the eyes . . . the eyes. Black. Ink black. The black of the tomb.

It dragged him down the hallway. He thrashed and flailed his small body. His fingernails skittering down the wall, the carpet burning his knees. He screamed and screamed.

No! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

Flailing, he jerked awake, drenched with sweat.

A nightmare. It was a nightmare.

The pain in his chest subsided as the pounding quieted. Balling up his little fists, he rubbed them into his tired eyes. Choking back a sob, his gaze darted around the empty room.

But something was wrong. Something was wrong with his legs—his knees. Gingerly, he pushed the sheets down.

In the darkness, he could see the rug burns.

*author’s note: When I was very young–probably four or five–I had this nightmare several times. Each time I awoke I found rug burns on my knees. It never made sense to me.
I’ve never forgotten the dream.
-ijs

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