"How did you sleep?" Elizabeth's husband asked, but he already knew the answer. She had been twitching and gasping all night. It wasn't unusual. Night terrors plagued her. She'd had garden-variety nightmares since she was a child. Her parents divorced when she was three, and her father visited on weekends. According to Elizabeth, he was awkward and nervous when he came to visit — well-intentioned but clueless in the care and keeping of small girls. The choices for the day's outing were always the same: ice cream, bowling, or the movies. Ice cream seemed a no-brainer, but she and her sisters quickly discovered that after he had spent the money on ice cream, there was no more money, nothing else — just sitting for hours in a booth at the ice cream shop. Bowling was not much better; there was only one ball in the alley that Elizabeth could lift, and if it wasn't available, she couldn't bowl. But the movies — they were the worst. Once, they had seen Jungle Book. It was a day she remembered fondly, but her movie choice was canceled out by the votes of her father and older sisters more often than not. They chose horror movies. One haunted her for years — the plot of the movie escaped her, but the burned, disembodied hand crawling from the fireplace in search of a victim crept into her dreams many a night. In her preschool years, soon after the divorce, her sleep was often interrupted by a cackling witch that hunted her — eager to sweep her away from the safety of her grandmother's lovely fuchsia-encircled terrace. It didn't take a psychotherapist to figure out that dream, but this new dream, this new nightly dose of terror, she told her husband, was something altogether different. It physically exhausted her. It was terrifying and had no beginning and no end, no escape. The storyteller in her mind came, unbidden, every night.
It began in a high rise, on the top floor; the urgency of escape was palpable. With the elevator predictably unavailable, the stairs were Elizabeth's only option, and so she ran for them. She ran as if her life depended on it — as if being chased by the hounds of Hell. Down, down, down she ran. At some landings, the stairs below her were a mere mass of twisted steel and concrete rubble, as if a bomb had exploded. On these floors, she leaped to the next landing, trying unsuccessfully to tuck and roll. She crashed onto the floor below — battered and cut, but too terrified to stop. There was no fight — only flight. She didn't know why, but she had to get out of that building. Flight after flight, through the dilapidated stairwell…running, leaping, crashing, and running again until, at last, she reached the ground floor. Panting, bleeding, and desperate, she pulled open the heavy fire door and stepped outside to the sidewalk, where she paused just a moment behind a large bush to catch her breath. She was still in danger. She knew it; she could feel it. She had to get farther away. She dashed out into the street, glancing quickly to her right in time to see a car screaming towards her… "No! No, no, nooooo…!" The thud of impact was deafeningly loud, and then there was silence. It was over — but it wasn't. It began again…she was back in the high rise, the top floor. She made the same desperate race to the bottom and rushed out from behind the large bush — only to meet the same end…that sickening thud…over and over and over and over again.
It was no wonder she woke exhausted every morning. She told and retold the story to her husband so many times that he became increasingly concerned for her health. Already thin, she was becoming haggard and gaunt. Perhaps she should see a therapist. But no, she was too busy, too stressed. She was needed at work. She hurried to her car, fretting about the time.
He watched her drive away — fatigued, drained, spent.
"A detour! What a wonderful addition to an already miserable day," Elizabeth thought sardonically as she approached the orange sign blocking her usual exit. Now she'd be late for sure. She sped past her intended turnoff and followed the orange detour signs that rerouted her into the old part of town.
"Damn!" she muttered as she looked around. She usually avoided this street. She didn't like this neighborhood of run-down tenement buildings and boarded-up stores. There was no one around, and yet, she didn't feel safe here. The sooner she could get back to the county road, the better. Would she be late for work? She glanced at the clock on the dashboard and then back to the road. She instantly broke into a cold sweat, every nerve ending in her body tingling painfully, ominously. "No, she said." "No! No! It can't be — it's… No, no, nooooo…!" Her scream trailed off.
The officer stood up, finished writing, and clapped his notebook shut. "Someone call the coroner. There's nothing more we can do here. She's dead," he said flatly.
About twenty minutes after receiving the call, her husband arrived at the scene, distraught, distrustful, and bewildered. What was she doing in this part of town? How could she be dead when there was no damage to her car? If it wasn't an accident, what was it? To the officer, he simply asked, "How? How did it happen?"
"We're not sure yet," the officer answered. "There were no witnesses, but we think she died of a heart attack. Based on the skid marks, it looks like she swerved to miss something, hit the brakes, and skidded over to the shoulder. She started braking right near that big bush next to the high rise. Someone could have run out into the street from there, but it's not likely. That building's been abandoned for years. It's just rubble inside. I'm so sorry. We'll never know for sure. There's just no telling what happened…no telling."
Her husband paled, the inexplicable suddenly eerily clear to him. "No… you're mistaken," he thought. There was telling. There had been telling — night after night after night.