Sleep is torture.
Night after night, for the last three months, I have had the same dream.
I see a girl-child, small, about eight or so.
She comes from a distance, at first, an absolutely ordinary child, her dark hair tied in pigtails, dressed in blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers. She is skipping, and her voice calls out to unseen companions.
As she gets closer her face resolves itself with painful clarity.
It is perfect.
It is heart-shaped, with a wide, intelligent brow, and it tapers gently to a narrow, beautifully rounded chin.
Her skin has that translucence that almost glows, and it is pale, but not unhealthy. It is untouched by sun, but there is a hint of rose shading the high cheekbones.
The eyes are large, fringed with dark, curling lashes. The iris is rimmed with a ring of dark brown, the colour of bitter chocolate and the lighter brown within is flecked with green-gold. The pupils are wide and the sunlight gives a sparkle to their blackness.
The nose is small with a hint of snub, but no dusting of freckles.
The upper lip of a mouth that smiles to reveal a row of tiny, straight teeth, is bowed, beautifully, and the lower is full. They are the colour of ripe raspberries, and soft.
She catches sight of me.
Instantly, the smile fades, and the lips begin to tremble. The pupils contract to pinpoints that bore into me. She lifts a hand – I notice the perfection of the tiny nail on the finger she points at me – the mouth opens wide.
And she screams.
The noise batters me, pouring in through my ears, and fills me with her horror. I see myself, in that sound, as she does, a monstrous thing tainted, corrupt, terrifying.
I raise a hand to ward off the attack, I feel my fist clench, I pull back my arm and begin to drive it forwards and I….
I wake with my ears full of screaming, my eyes full of tears, and my mind full of hate.
But every night, I wake a little later, and I know that one day soon – tonight, tomorrow night, who knows, I won't wake in time, that the blow will connect and crush that perfection, smashing it into a million fragments of bone and blood.
And once that happens, the creature who struggles to wakefulness won't be me.
I keep a cloth by the mirror, to hide from the monster.