Erika knew she was dreaming, like she did every time she dreamed. Behind the smoky wall of thin mist which kept her and the realm of dreams apart, the world before her was unfamiliar. It looked nothing like anywhere she’d been before. Curious, as she never ceased to be, and wary as some dreams had taught her to be, she drew near until there was but only a foot between her and the wall. Then she let her eyes roam and study.
The stretch of land was a dense, peculiarly mixed forest. Trees, iroko, obeche, and others she couldn’t name, stood tall and broad in a cluster, their silhouettes magnifying the gloom cast by a sky empty of moon or stars. Along the level ground, leafless twigs either stuck out of luxuriant-green grass or were buried under knolls of decomposing leaves. There was an eerie energy in the atmosphere. In the damp chill caused by a recent rainfall, it buzzed like electrical current, sparking the droplets of water on tree leaves.
Even as her mind began to question the deviation in realm, she heard the thuds. Footfalls, she discerned. Urgent, swift, fleeing.
She saw the woman. She emerged from behind a tree Erika could not name, darted past another, her legs leaping forward in a blur of speed. Her clothing, a grey loose dress, was torn in multiple places, her feet were bare and her breaths came in ragged gasps. Fear poured out of her. It squeezed like a fist around the woman’s heart. Erika felt it, and heard her thoughts as if they were her own.
Flee. Hide yourself. Hide from him.
At the thought of him, a whimper trembled through her lips, and dread sent a chill down her spine. Thinking of survival, she buried the thought, cast off the dread, and focused on her goal. Pain shot through her entire body. Her calves burned, and her feet screamed at the stings of twigs and splinters. But she kept on, zigzagging between trees and stumps of fallen woods, and ignored her desperate need for rest.
Don’t look back, she warned herself. Don’t think about him. Don’t lose courage.
She streaked out of the forest into a glade, and was grateful for the clearing. Her fear eased a little to see the narrow, winding path. She was getting closer to people. Shelter, someone would offer it to her. Safety. Rest.
A dry cough shook her. She needed water. Her parched throat craved it. Her waning strength begged for just a drop.
Then she felt him. His presence. He had caught up with her.
Erika looked beyond her and saw him. She knew him to be a man, the figure shrouded by black fog, with fire, orange and yellow in colour, spurting out of him. Like tiny bursts of flames, Erika thought, gasped as fear, her own and the woman’s, merged into one and pulled her attention back on the one struggling to save herself.
But there was nowhere else to run.
She had reached the wall.
“No.” She wheezed out the word, fell on her knees and reached out her hand.
But it dropped limply to her side before she could touch the wall.
“Don’t let him take me.” Her eyes exhausted and watery with tears, she begged. “Save me.”
Through the wall, Erika stared at the terrified face. And from her unswerving gaze, she knew she saw her too. Her heart wrung with compassion and she opened her mouth to ask how she could save her. But something, a strange force, pulled her.
Lifting her eyes, she looked past the oncoming figure in black fog, beyond the cluster of trees and somewhere inside the dark sky, she saw… no, felt a presence. A dark presence, watching. Waiting.