'The Empty Bed' by Vicky Newham

The first night, she lay in the dark, facing the door. In the musty dorm, the stifling heat felt tight in her chest: the only reminder that she was still alive. The stained mattress reeked of fear, and each passing moment ticked out the beats of her own.

They come at night, the others said.

She fixed her eyes on the slices of light around the door; the billowing shadows which movement created. Must stay awake; must keep watch. Each pad of a step, each muffled whisper, and she held her breath. Froze.

They come at night, the last one said.

The next night, she lay in wait under the dirt-slicked sheet on the metal bed; smelled the lives of others on the lumpy pillow. Face towards the door, she sunk her nose into her brother's sock. It was the only thing she'd had time to grab. If they came for her now, she'd be prepared. They'd see her face and touch her fear.

Must stay awake; must be on guard.

But over days and weeks, she kept watch. New arrivals took the mattress by the door, and they shifted round the dorm playing musical beds. If they came at night, she never saw.

One out, one in. That's what they said.

Tonight, though, she closed her eyes. Face to the wall, back to the door. If it was first in, next out, her turn was up. She drew up her knees and curled in a ball. If they were going to come she didn't need to lie in wait, or see who it was.

They came that night, as she knew they would.

She didn't hear the creak of the door or see the shadow loom. Instead, she woke to a smell she'd known all her life; to a voice she'd heard from before she was born. 'You're safe now,' the woman whispered in the girl's ear - and clamped the cloth over her nose and mouth.

Comments

  1. Reading with trepidation, with increasing tension and fear. Great build-up, Vicky!

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