When I was a little girl, around eleven maybe twelve, I suffered a recurring nightmare. I would be alone in the autumnal woods after my friends went home, with nothing but a pink backpack and a torch. The road behind me would quickly disappear as I took step after step into the black wilderness, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet and the caws of crows in the trees filling the ghastly air. My breathing would quicken, my heart would pound. I would catch breaths in my throat and have to remind myself to swallow them. It felt so real.
That’s when the papers started appearing, first mixed into the leaves, and taken up by a midnight breeze. I would only spot one or two, clippings and shreds of words to far and moving too fast to read before I was distracted by the howling in the shadows. A beast on all fours with wispy strands of hair desperately clinging to its head. It would circle me, make its presence known, let me feel naked, alone, helpless, before it bounced between the trees and roared toward me with a gaping mouth.
Sometimes I would die on the spot, others I would make it some distance further into the woods, the howling thing laughing like a hyena, knowing my little escape attempt was fruitless. I always died. I never escaped.
Then, in my mid-teens the nightmare evolved. I would wake up in the woods, next to half eaten or mutilated corpse of my younger self. I would steal the backpack and the flashlights, and once again journey into the dark with full knowledge of what awaited me. I held back every whimper I could, unwilling to show pain and misery to the creature that fed on it. If it would eat me nightly, then I would give it as little pleasure in doing so as possible.
The newspaper clippings became more common, the orange and yellow of the leaves becoming a rarity in a sea of monochrome language. I would pick them up every now and again, advertisements and political scandals; but there was the article. The date would change and the nightmare would conjure new false stories, but one always stuck – the details of a bloody murder. I remember seeing flashes of words – blood, mutilation, unrecognisable – but the whole story never fit together. I never had long enough before the wispy haired demon snarled from the bushes once again, and I had to prepare to be torn limb from limb. Sometimes it kept me conscious, let me watch as it ate my arm from the shoulder to my fingers, let me feel it sink its teeth into my chest and inch toward my heart – its beady eyes always staring into mine.
Late teens, I came prepared. I hated waking up every morning with the pain in my chest and fear in my mind, but I resolved myself to uncover this mystery the years had been moulding for me. I woke up again, like the times before, to the corpses of my younger selves, the stages of my life that I had left behind. I grabbed the torch and once again journeyed into the woods.
I picked a newspaper off the tree where it had been pinned, the trimmings had been stitched together awkwardly to form the whole article. A woman killing her grandmother in a cottage in the woods, with an axe, or a steel pipe, or a shotgun. The body was mutilated, ruined, unrecognisable. The police caught her red handed, standing over the corpse with the phone in hand and 999 dialled.
I would hear the howl again, and quickly dash into the woods, hoping my longer and stronger legs could carry me farther and faster away. A light, a window, a man calling to me. I would burst into the cottage, hyperventilating and sucking in huge gulps of air. My legs would shake and my face was red, the hunter looked at me with pity and sympathy, before donning his hat and raising his shotgun. I would hear the gunshots, followed by silence, hours of nothing. With nothing to do but end what I knew was a nightmare, I stepped into the dark and opened my arms, or went to bed and hoped to wake up in peace. Either way, I was torn open in violent splendour.
Early twenties. The same woods. The same story. The murder of the huntsman and me alone in the cottage. The story of a woman murdering her grandma. An old woman would make me tea, sit with me until the hunter returned. He never returned. She would never die. I always would. I hated her for that. The howling and hyena laughing had turned to tortured screams and agonising calls, but that did not make the beast any less brutal. It had grown with me, learned which buttons to press and which to leave, how to always keep me afraid night after night after night for a decade.
Thirty. I loaded my Grandfather’s shotgun that I had stolen the previous week and hidden in the shed. Decades of torment, an unending recurring nightmare, it was all too much. I wasted no time once she answered the door, took her head clean off, the abusive bitch. Went to town on her corpse after the second shot, grabbing the pipe and the axe from the basement, left nothing of the woman that had tortured my soul. The creatures howl was agonised and tortured, as it had been in my dreams, but I savoured every moment of it, knowing it could never hurt me again. Knowing the monster would never cut or bruise or starve or hurt me ever again. No more nasty words, no more moulding me like clay. No more anything. I dropped the phone to the ground with 999 on the screen, already dialled before I pulled the first trigger. I told them that the monster was dead – the monster was dead.