The light switch was the same as my dream, but the cellar was brighter when Yolanda switched it on. No longer just a dim puddle of light that barely reached past the end of the stairs, but a swathe of illumination that filled the small room. The floorboards were dry, not mud and concrete. I almost didn’t bother to follow her down the stairs, until I saw something familiar in the corner. A tin bucket, the one Carl had carried from my room. Logically it probably contained my body waste, vomit or something else. The way he’d held it suggested a strong, unpleasant smell. But it was the only touchstone that connected my waking world with the fevered dreams and I wanted to take a closer look.
I followed Yolanda down the narrow staircase.
‘See,’ she said.
‘Yes.’ I walked towards the bucket.
‘Just a moment.’
‘I’m going back up.’
Before the light went out I reached the bucket. It hadn’t been emptied. Whatever I had expelled from my skin in the midst of my fever had grown. The black, slimy, over-sized leech-like creatures that curled around each other in the bucket were sleeping. At least until they smelled me. I saw their blind faces turn towards me just before everything went dark.
‘No!’ I screamed.
I ran towards the stairs, or so I thought, but I hit a wall. My toes sank into damp earth. I felt something heavy slide across my foot.
‘Yolanda!’ I shouted.
I heard the clatter of metal. A bucket pushed over, perhaps. They were coming for me. The flesh of my flesh. My nightmare.
My hands flailed in front of me as I ran away from the sound. My foot slipped in the muck and I landed on my hands and knees. The room was silent other than my laboured breaths and I could not judge the direction of the stairs or the bucket. My body shook as panic took hold. When the first leech reached my toe I screamed then realised, too late, my mistake. They were everywhere, and now I had let them inside my mouth too. Their slimy noses pushed into every orifice. Even my tear ducts seemed a viable point of access, and they stretched and tore around the wet bodies. What I had dispelled in my fever were now forcing themselves back into my body. Racing like spermatozoa towards their goal.
My head swam as I felt the dark stuff enter my brain. The others stopped moving inside me and those monsters, which were still outside my skin, made plopping sounds as they fell to the floor. I sat up slowly and realised it was light enough to see. The stairs were less than a metre away and I struggled towards them until the strength returned to my limbs and I was able to walk.
I had assumed the cellar door was locked, but the handle turned easily in my strong grip and I stepped into the bright kitchen, blinking. Yolanda was there, waiting. Her smile brighter than the sunlight. I walked towards her and she took my hand in hers, my skin, the shade of a bruise, deep purple, almost black, looked much darker than hers now.
She led me out of the cabin and to the river bank where Carl waited.
‘She’s ready,’ Yolanda said.
Together we dived into the water, now the perfect temperature for a swim. Without moving her lips Yolanda told me everything was right. I would no longer be alone and my new family would take care of me. The truth of this wrapped me in a loving embrace and as my body sank deeper what was left of my mind soared high above, laughing.