Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965)

Night Terrors

"I got your invitation."

Thank god she's alive!

She's hurt, bleeding and terrified – but she's alive. She's still…whole. I'm not too late.

But I almost was…

"Let's get this over with quickly. What do you want me to do?"

The bastard crouching over her stands and I'm offered a glimpse of her. They cut her hair. Somehow, even clutching the missing strands in my pocket, it comes as a shock. They actually dared to hurt her.

I'll kill them.

A strange daze fills my mind, contemplating that I'll never get a chance to run my hands through her long locks like I'd imagined, even as the bastard approaches me, a baseball bat gripped tightly in his hands. Stand still he orders.

Is he fucking serious! Does he actually expect me to just stand here and let him hit me!

This has to be some sort of sick joke. I want to laugh but the look on his face guarantees I'll regret it. The scissors at her face reinforce the threat.

They'll kill her.

Footsteps approach me from behind; my body tenses for the inevitable attack. She whimpers and I look to her, finding a strange comfort in her tears and I know I won't lift a fist. For her…I'll bleed. I'll die.

"Don't look at me like that." Somehow my voice betrays none of the fear coursing through me. That's good. I want to be strong for her. "Keep your eyes closed."

I'll protect you.

She closes her eyes and I smile briefly, my hand gripping her hair as it rests in my pocket.

Give me strength...for her.

Wood splinters.

Blood splatters.

Legs kick.

Bones shatter.

Gasping against the sharp pain in my chest I struggle to remain conscious; their malicious laughter pounding against my ears as their fists pound into my flesh. More than the pain, more than the anger, it's my fear that sustains me, knowing that if I fall….if I fail her now…

His eyes level with mine and I choke on my own bile at the intentions I see in them. He smiles, recognizing the fear in my eyes for what it is. More than the bruises and blood, he knows how to hurt me.

No! No! No! NOOOOOO!

Screaming I lunge at him, my hand dropping the precious locks that had sustained me until now, as he breaks away from the group. Broken and bleeding, too weak to remain standing, I collapse. Agonized I drag my body towards her, helpless to stop him; helpless against her screams beating against my mind.

"MAKINO!"

My scream catches in my throat, sweat covering my trembling body. Breathing heavily I glance beside me watching as my wife sleeps peacefully. Her even breathing calms my terror stricken nerves and I feel the agony of what could have been lessen. Smiling I run my hand through her, once again, long locks, taking strength from her presence as I did so long ago.