Writing Prompt: Choke

The thing has been stalking me in my sleep for weeks. Every night, it’s the same thing: fall asleep, dream of a maze of hallways and shuttered doors, being followed by someone who never quite gets close enough to identify.

Sometimes they lean out of one of the doors I didn’t check and give me a shove. Sometimes they get in front of me somehow and herd me in a different direction. Once or twice they’ve had something sharp in their hands and drug it across the walls of the dreamscape, producing an unholy shriek that makes me stop in my tracks and cover my ears.

I always wake up from the dream sweaty and ill-rested, feeling like I’ve been running marathons. My wife smiles and tells me I need to lay off the red meat and booze. Sometimes I think she’s enjoying it.

Last week, it got worse. Instead of using whatever sharp implement my stalker has on the walls, it’s taken to lashing out when I inadvertently pass it, gashing my arms repeatedly. When I wake up, my arms are covered in welts where the blade hit me.

My wife smiles and tells me it’s psychosomatic, that I need to lay off the television before bed. I sometimes think she’s enjoying it.

Tonight, though, it’s different. I can tell. There’s a mist in the air of the maze, and my stalker isn’t always stalking me. Sometimes I see them just ahead, and they’re facing away from me. Sometimes I hear them making that screech in a corridor opposite the one I’m in, or sense footsteps behind me, moving further from me.

That’s my chance, I think. To end it. I hear another screech to my right, and there’s a door there. I slip through, and there they are. Right in front of me, facing away, looking lost as they drag their blade across the wall and bob their head back and forth like an animal scenting for pray.

They don’t notice as I come behind them, one arm locking around their throat and cinching tight, the other flailing at the weapon in their hand, knocking it aside. Once they’re disarmed, I grab hold of their throat with my hand instead of my elbow, spin them, and lock on with both hands, squeezing as tight as I can.

This dream is going to end, one way or another.

The thing in front of me has no face to speak of. It’s a black mass, with only the outline of a mouth and vague suggestions of eye sockets and a nose. The mouth-shape twists into a smile, and it’s one I almost know, but it doesn’t stop me. I squeeze and squeeze until the being first starts twitching, and then stops.

Then, I’m awake. Just like that. My hands are swollen, sore, and locked around my wife’s throat. Her eyes are bulging but glazed. A little runner of drool has slipped from the corner of her still smiling mouth.

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