Wisps of steam rose and curled through the keyhole, shapes forming and dissolving. They flowed around me as I stood still in its wake, like water flowing past a rock. It wasn’t the steam that had me still, eyes fixed on the keyhole. It was the whispers, the shouting; the screaming… Where was the heat? That feeling of being roasted, struggling for breath? Instead I felt drowsy, hearing what must once have been voices moving past, dissolving like the steam into a mere hum. Where was my fear? Where was the hand on my shoulder, the shouting in my ear – telling me to run? Where had they all gone? How could they leave me here?
I felt it, the chill against my palms far before the footsteps fell. Something approaching from behind. But I still couldn’t move. I wanted to turn, run; or stand and face it. But I only stood, frozen. I willed my eyes to close, I didn’t want to see. But they were so dry, so tired but unrelenting in their rebellion of my command. I could barely hear the steps, it was a feeling of something closing in rather than a sound that I could clearly define. Were the sounds in my head now? Did I only imagine the screaming, the footsteps?
But then it stopped. No sound, no heat. Stuck in emptiness, the wisps swirling around. They were getting so thick that I could feel the resistance against my arms as they flowed past. Stronger, almost thoughtfully probing – seeing my reaction. It must have been disappointed. The wisps seemed to back away, become so transparent that I could see the walls again.
Do you really think it is you they cower from?
Who is that? I thought, the feeling of fainting having passed. Nothing answered. I felt what had been keeping my body prone let go and I collapsed to the ground, energy spent. I felt the heat on the tiles, making my head spin. The wisps had gone and replacing them came a black smog that clouded my sight.
The voice in my head was steely, ordering me to move. I placed my hands below me pushing up until I was on all fours, spluttering in the smog. I looked around for the first time, but the smog filled my vision, burned my eyes.
It commanded, so I stumbled to my wobbling feet. So this is where my brain had been hiding. Finally logic was giving me a helping hand. I started across the room on unstable legs until I reached the door half-open. My hand was on the handle, it burned my palm, but I didn’t move. I scrunched my eyes in pain – why can’t I leave?! I was shouting at the voice – hand screaming in pain, unable to let go, to pass through.
Do you really want to leave?
I don’t know. I answered, almost instantly. I couldn’t think, my head was clouding over from lack of oxygen. I pressed my head to the door frame, cold forehead against steaming wood, I’m surprised I didn’t catch fire.