The First Night.
It was sudden. I was awake. I had been thrown out of my sleep. Not the slow and gentle shift from sleep to waking, that comfortable hinterland of dozing to awake-fullness. My eyes were open and I was awake, but it was still night. I was still lying in bed, my back resting against the comfortable mattress, the soft bedclothes still covering my body, I was still there in my darkened bedroom.
I turned my head on the pillow and saw James’s sleeping face next to me. His eyes closed, his lips slightly parted, his breathing was soft and regular. He was lying on his side, his body almost drawn up into a foetal position, facing me in the bed. He looked so calm and relaxed in his sleep, but he always did. No bad dreams or disturbing nightmares to interrupt his sleep, but there never was. He always slept so soundly.
I glanced up at the room’s ceiling. It was shrouded in shadows and I could barely see any definition or pattern to it, but I didn’t need to see it. I just wanted somewhere for my eyes to roam as my mind questioned what had happened to me.
What had happened to me? What had woken me so suddenly? Why was I now awake in the middle of the night?
Then, as I questioned myself, my mind remembered. As if the room had suddenly been filled with light, I remembered what had woken me. A sharp and unexpected scream had pulled me from sleep. It had been a human scream, but so full of fear and pain that I could not tell what its gender had been, only that it had been loud enough to wake me from my sleep.
I allowed my eyes to un-focus in the darkness, not to stare at any of the dark shapes there in the rooms, and instead pressured my ears to search out any sounds there. I strained my hearing but no sounds returned. The only noise I could hear was James’s soft and rhymical breathing, nothing more. There was no one else in the room, no other sounds from outside of the room, nothing and no one screaming in other part of the building.
I closed my eyes, it had just been a dream, just another example of my overactive imagination.
James groaned in his sleep and rolled onto his back, his turning body and pulling at the bedclothes that covered us. I turned my head as he did so, one of his several and slow movements during his night’s sleep. He came to rest lying flat on his back, his eyes still closed in sleep and his lips still slightly parted.
I followed him, rolling onto my side and resting my head on his chest. My check pressed into the strong muscle there just under his skin, my own personal living pillow, and I wrapped my body around his prone body. It was my favourite position to sleep in, my own body pressed against his, holding onto my man.
Again James muttered something in his sleep, as his right arm folded itself around my shoulder, the fingers of his right hand resting there against my skin, folding me to him in his sleep.
I closed my eyes and returned to my own sleep.
The Next Night
My body jerked me awake. Sharp and sudden I was awake, and it was still night, darkness filling the room, bleeding all the colour from the few things I could still see near to my body, and filling the rest of the room with shadows. It was still my own bedroom though, I still knew exactly where I was.
I was lying on my side, my face pressed into my soft, old pillow, the crisp and clean bedclothes covering my body. I recognised the gentle and smooth aroma from those bedclothes. The smell of mild soap and the sent of James and my bodies. This was my bed, my place.
I also knew what had woken me from my deep sleep, it was the sound of a human scream. It was the same terrified, pain-stricken scream as the night before. It had been loud and sharp, filling the room and kicking me from my sleep.
I rolled slowly onto my back, careful not to wake or disturb James’s sleeping body, that was lying next to me. James was deeply asleep, as always. I envied him his ability to sleep so deeply without a care or a difficulty. He would fall asleep when we climbed into bed, or after we had made love, which seemed to happen so regularly after we climbed naked into our bed together, and won’t wake until the next morning. Not me though. I could still wake two or three times during a night. Wake, turn over, find James asleep next to me and fall back asleep again.
James was lying on his back, in the bed beside me. The bedclothes rested across his lower chest, almost framing his sculped, muscular physique, while his blonde hair formed a haphazard mess on the top of his, his neatly styled hair disturbed by sleep.
I lay on my back too, my shoulder touching James’s shoulder, bare-skin against bare-skin, a moment of gentle intimacy, and strained my ears to hear. I could hear James’s soft breathing in his sleep. I could hear the gentle sounds the apartment made during the night, the slow creek of the wooden floorboards, the occasional bubble of water in the pipes, the slight scratch of a mouse in the ceiling, but no other sounds. My neighbours were silent, no shouts from a random argument, no sounds of footsteps as someone walked about in an apartment above mine, no distant mumble of a television left playing to itself. The building was as quiet as the night itself.
Where had that scream come from? Who was behind it? But my mind was too tired to delve any deeper.
I pressed my body closer to James’s, I eased my body so that we were lying with our sides pressed together. Our shoulders, our uppers arms, our flanks, our hips and our thighs were all pressed together, the reassurance of James’s skin pressing against my own. I closed my eyes and was soon was asleep again.
The Following Night
The scream was load, terrified and full of pain. The scream of a person in fear for their very life and at the same time deep in pain, a human scream but that bordered on animalist with its shear pain and fear. The scream was so disturbing that it thrown me from my sleep, kicking me into full wakefulness.
My body shuck with surprise and then I was awake. I was back in my bedroom, lying on my back in my warm and comfortable bed, the soft bedclothes over my body, James sleeping soundly next to me, and the room as silent as it always was in the depth of night.
Again I strained my ears, searching out for a sound, a noise, a sign from were that scream had come from. In reply I heard nothing, nothing save the usual sounds of my bedroom, nothing new or out of the ordinary. What had made that noise? Who had made that noise? Why was it only me that it woke from sleep? Why did it never wake James, only waking me? The scream had been so loud, loud enough to wake me from sleep, and yet James just slept through it. Was he hearing it or only just me? Was I losing my mind, waking night after night like this? Was I just dreaming this all?
I closed my eyes against it all and let my body sink down into the bed, waiting for sleep to recline me again.
James moaned something in his sleep, his body turning onto its side, rolling towards me, and still asleep, his arms had wrapped themselves around my body. The warm and very secure embrace of his strong and muscular body.
“Babe…” He mumbled in his sleep, drawing me tighter into his embrace.
I felt safe there, my body relaxing and falling back into sleep.
The Night After That
The scream rang out, loud and long, a man’s scream of abject pain and terror, the scream ringing in my ears and making my body jerk awake with a sudden spasm of surprise. I was thrown awake so rapidly that my body kicked up against the bedclothes, so surprised was I to find them there. I kicked against the strange bedclothes covering my body until, a few seconds later, I remembered were I was and fell back against the bed’s yielding mattress.
“Babe, babe, what’s the matter?” James voice asked me, from the left-hand side of the bed.
I turned my head and saw his face, his bright blue eyes, watching me from the pillow next to me.
“I had a bad dream, I dreamed I heard a man screaming in pain and fear,” I said. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“You didn’t wake me,” he said.
“I didn’t?” I replied.
“No, because I’m not really here,” James said.
“This is the dream, you’re dreaming now, and that scream you hear is your own, moments before you pass out,” James said.
“What? What?” I said. What he was saying made no sense.
“Pavel,” James said, using my name. “You’re not really here, in your bedroom. You’re in a Chechnya Police Station, being tortured to get information out of you.”
“That’s…” I wanted to tell him his story was crazy, but I didn’t believe it was. I believed him, strange enough.
“You were arrested four days ago for being gay. For the last two days they have been torturing you to get the names of your gay friends out of you,” James said.
“You’re not my lover?” I said, the realisation was painfully disappointing.
“I’m just a memory your mind has conjured up to give you a tiny degree of comfortable during this awful time. The human mind is like that,” James said.
“You’re just a memory?”
“I was an English student you met in Grozny, Chechnya’s Capital City. You were nineteen and had just moved there. I was twenty-one and on a month’s foreign exchange visit. I met you on my last week in Grozny. We had this crazy, passionate affair for a week. We spent most our time together in my hotel room, making love. It was the most amazing time,” James said.
“What happened to us?” I asked him.
“That was six years ago. I returned to England. I moved to London. I’m now engaged to a BBC Producer call Jay. I love him, I think. You stayed here. You fought for equality, but you always remembered me. I think you’re still in love with me,” James said.
“I think I am,” I agreed.
“That’s why your conjured me up, a nice memory in this nightmare.”
“But what’s that scream I keep hearing?” I said.
“That is your scream. You’re screaming out against the pain from all the torturing they are submitting you to,” James said. “When the pain gets too bad you blackout and your mind comes here, a happy place for a few moments, before they wake you up again and start the torture all over again.”
“Why are they torturing me?” I asked him.
“The Chechan government are rounding up all gay men and locking you away in a Concentration Camp. They are doing this to please President Putin, the homophobic bastard.”
“But why are they torturing me?” I again asked him.
“To get the names and addresses of your gay friends out of you, so they can arrest them.”
“Have I betrayed my friends?” I asked him, I had to know.
“No,” James said, “but you will. No one can hold out against torture forever. I am sorry.”
James then lent forward, he lightly kissing me on the forehead. I remembered, it was what he used to do, in those moments of gentle affection, after we had made love, as we lay quietly together in each other’s arms. I fell in love with him in those quiet moments.
“I don’t want to betray my friends,” I said.
“I know,” James replied.
The scream filled the room, loud and brimming with pain. The masculine sound bounded off the walls there, the near feral sound of it ringing in my ears and making my stomach sink with fear.
“James!” I called out in fear, but he was gone, the room fading quickly after him.
The Night After the Night After the Night After That
The loud, male, terrified scream woke me from my sleep again. It had been so loud that it seemed to fill the whole of my bedroom, bouncing off the very walls there, but when it thrown me out of my sleep I found the bedroom was silent and empty. There was no one else there, only me lying alone in the centre of my bed, the bedclothes wrapped haphazardly around my body.
That same, disturbing dream had again woken me from my sleep, yet the moment my eyes were open all I could remember of it was that terrified male scream. I hated that dream, I hated the way it would always throw me from my sleep, always in the dark early hours of morning, always to remind me that I was alone in my bed.
I fell back against my mattress, and stared up the dark shadows painted over my ceiling, and waited for sleep to return.