Claire woke slowly, drifting in and out of sleep. There was no rush in getting up, after all it wasn’t like she had anywhere to be. Not since she had been fired anyway. She rolled over again and pulled the blanket tighter around herself. She knew that self pity wouldn’t get her anywhere, but it had only happened two days ago, she deserved a little down time. That place had her run off her feet and she knew that she would be glad of getting fired in another month or two but for now the prospect of job hunting and the disapproving stares and sighs from her parents were proving to be too much for her to deal with. So she did the only thing she could to push it off a little longer, she rolled over and dozed off again.
When she finally woke up properly she lay in bed, it was dark outside and Claire had no doubt that it would start raining soon. There was no way she wanted to get up. After a while her stomach started to grumble, sighing Claire threw back the covers and got out of bed. She had to eat and sooner would be better than later. Claire glanced out the window in the hall as she passed by, the sky was grey and cloudy, just as she suspected. Shaking her head she went into the kitchen, wondering what she’d eat.
Claire stepped into the kitchen, glanced out the backdoor and stopped. It was wrong. Everything was wrong. The trees had no leaves, their skeletal limbs grasping at the sky, the old shed was falling apart, its paint peeling and flaking, a part of the fence had been knocked down at some point and no one had repaired it. None of it was right. The trees should be green, the shed was just freshly painted a week ago, as was the fence. Slowly Claire moved closer to the door, the closer she got the more she saw. Houses were dilapidated, windows broken, doors missing, the Christian’s house looked like it had collapsed a year or two ago. The ground was mostly dirt, any clumps of grass looked like they were struggling to survive.
Claire stepped back from the door, obviously this was some kind of weird dream. That was all, she’d wake up in a few minutes and marvel at how intense a dream it was. She took a few deep breaths, then pinched herself. It hurt. She took a look around the kitchen, everything here seemed normal. Nothing was out of place or looked decaying. The cup she had used last night was still sitting beside the sink. Claire went to the fridge and opened it, the light turned on and cool air rushed out, there was food in the fridge, not much, but the same amount from yesterday. This definitely had to be a dream, it didn’t matter if the pinch hurt or not. It was the only explanation. Claire’s stomach rumbled again so she started to make breakfast for herself. If she was going to be stuck in her dream there was no point in being hungry in the meantime.
After breakfast Claire went upstairs and changed into jeans, a t-shirt and a hoodie. She knew what was wrong, her brain just hadn’t kicked in yet, she just needed to go about her day and then she’d wake up at some point. She opened the front door and stepped out, a thin thread of unease wound its way around her stomach. This was a dream, wasn’t it? A cool gust of wind rattled through the trees. Her car was gone, but that wasn’t a big deal, after all she had planned on walking to the park today, get some exercise and fresh air, feel like she had done something. So that was what she would do. She’d go on a stroll to the park, see all the weird sights her brain conjured, then wake up in bed and go have real breakfast.
Claire walked slowly, looking at everything, why was it all so broken and worn? The streets were cracked and full of potholes, tufts of grass were growing in the cracks, houses were dilapidated, with broken windows at the very least, to just being a pile of rubble at the worst. Despite this it wasn’t as terrifying as it should have been, after all it was a dream, her dream and she would be completely safe.
The park gate was lying on the ground. Claire knew it was a dream now, the gate was heavy, nothing would have been able to break it off its hinges. Even if the world had ended and she slept through it, those gates would have just rusted into place. Feeling slightly better she stepped into the park. The trees here were all dead with twisting branches reached into the sky, the grass was spotty, with large expanses of grey dirt. She took a left and headed towards the pond and the playground.
The pond was the first thing she saw, or rather didn’t see. The basin for it was there, but the water wasn’t, a small shallow muck filled puddle sat at the bottom of the basin. There were no birds, though now that she thought about it she hadn’t seen any animals. She looked up at the sky, the clouds were looking darker now, threatening rain, but there was no sign of birds. She realised just how quiet it was. There was none of the background noise that normally filled life, no bird song, no hum of car engines. A breeze picked up causing the trees to shake, the noise seemed too loud in the quiet park. Claire started towards the playground, wondering if this had been such a good idea after all. Even if she was dreaming it would have been better to stay at the house, she could have gotten back into bed and probably woken up properly shortly after.
The playground was equally desolate, the slide was cracked and broken, the seesaw was no longer there. The worst was the carousel. She approached it slowly, almost carefully. Someone had been here, they had painted dark red splotches around the poles, making it look as though the horses had been impaled, each one had an open mouth and wide eyes, they looked like they were screaming and bucking. She started to shake, little tremors dancing up and down her arms. This was too much, it didn’t matter if it was a dream, she turned and started to walk away. She just had to remain calm, she couldn’t let herself get freaked out. Every little noise made her jump, the scraping of tree branches, the rustle of dirt blowing in the breeze, the faint creaks of rusty swing chains. Once she got home she would be fine.
Claire jumped as there was a loud bang behind her, she spun around trying to spot the source, but she could see nothing that would have caused the noise. After scanning all around herself, Claire started walking again. Steady, measured strides. She knew if she let herself walk faster the panic would set in. There was another bang, did this one sound closer? She whipped her head around, not wanting to stop this time she looked as she walked. She didn’t realise she was walking faster until she broke out into a run, her foot steps boomed off the ground, the noise filling the entire world. When she reached home she was panting and out of breath, she froze at the end of the driveway, it felt like she couldn’t breath, her lungs were working but the air just wasn’t going in. The house was partially collapsed, a telephone pole lying amidst the damage. The front door was hanging off its hinges. She moved closer, trying to see any evidence of her old house.
She stepped inside carefully, the floors looked as though they were rotting. The house was dark, she moved through the rooms, looking for something, anything that would connect her to home. She pinched herself again, as hard as she could. Claire yelped and rubbed at her arm, she was still here. Maybe it wasn’t a dream.
Outside the house there was another bang. The wind whistled through the house, in the silence that followed Claire could just make out a faint scraping noise, like something was moving. It sounded like it was a way off still, but as she listened the noise became louder. She crept towards the door to look out, wishing that the stairs were still intact, it would be much easier to spot something coming from high up. A feeling came over her, she knew with complete certainty that should that scraping thing see her she was dead, there would be no way to escape it. Claire moved back from the door and deeper into the shadows of the house. She couldn’t run, couldn’t move. Everything was too quiet, it would hear her. She curled into a tight ball and tried to keep herself in the shadows, hoping that the old table would provide enough cover. The scraping became louder and louder until it sounded like it was right outside. Claire held her breath as the scraping stopped, it was outside, she knew it and it knew she was in here. After what felt like eternity the scraping resumed, this time it was fading away. Claire was shaking, trying not to sob, she didn’t know what happened, how she got here but she was certain now, it wasn’t a dream.