BaitBy: Jade West
I want to keep my dreams, even the bad ones, because without them, I might have nothing all night long.
I can’t tell you the exact moment the night terrors started. There was no traumatic childhood experience that set them off. No defining moment that marked the beginning of the screams at night. No significant event that led a happy five-year-old girl to wake up sweating and wailing in the darkness.
My parents put it down to TV I shouldn’t have been watching. Scary stories from older kids in the playground. An overactive imagination.
It doesn’t matter where they came from. Not really.
They arrived without invitation and took up residence. Permanently. That’s what really matters.
Every night without fail the monster would chase me through the undergrowth. Every night I’d feel his hot breath on my neck as I ran for my life.
Every night the beast got a little bit closer. A little bit bigger. A little bit more terrifying.
I may not be able to tell you when and why the monster started hunting me in the first place, but I can tell you when I stopped screaming.
I can tell you when the nightmares stopped being terrors and the monster became a man.
I can even tell you when I started wanting them. Wanting the chase. Wanting him.
And I can tell you when, finally, one day the nightmares came to life.
My name is Abigail Rachel Summers, and tonight I am bait.
Two weeks earlier.
Jack Dobson is a guy you could call conventionally attractive. He has a symmetrical face, high cheekbones, and just the right amount of gel in his salon-messy hair.
He’s a member of the pink shirt brigade at the office, and he’s wearing one now, looking thoroughly out of place in the spit and sawdust joint I picked out for dinner this evening.
Jack’s a guy my parents would approve of. The kind they could make small talk with over a Sunday roast. Maybe even engage in a friendly debate on the current political landscape.
I have no interest whatsoever in this going further. I don’t want to see what he’s packing under his pink shirt, and I have no inclination to let him see what’s under mine, either.
By all rights that means I shouldn’t be here, but the steak is good and I was coerced by the admin girls at the copy machine this morning.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Jack Dobson is a nice guy. Too nice for me.
He laughs as he recounts another story about a colleague I haven’t met. I smile politely as I finish up my mushrooms.
“You haven’t met the Worcester guys yet, right?” he asks, again. I nod, again. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Once you hit the six-month mark you’ll be like part of the furniture. Summer barbeque coming up. After that you’ll know everyone.”
I don’t want to hit the six-month mark and I don’t want to know everyone. I don’t care about my job at Office Express, and I don’t care that maybe someone like Jack could be good for someone like me.
Maybe in another place and time, but not here and definitely not now.
I’m rootless here. Three months into a life I never wanted to be living. Three months into the paper-thin existence I figured was my best chance at a fresh start.
I’m here with Jack because I’m death-gripping the hope that one day I’ll wake up without the soul-destroying pang of loss in my gut. That I won’t be clutching my belly and crying into my pillow as I realise all over again that this is my world now.
I’m a pragmatist. Or I am these days.
If I’m ever going to wake up and realise this new life isn’t all that bad, it needs to actually be a semblance of one.
So, I force another smile. Fake another laugh. Order another drink. I try to be interested in Jack and his kind eyes and his pink shirt. I try to pretend I’m a normal girl living a normal life without a shit ton of baggage trailing from the noose around my neck.
I think he believes me. After three glasses of white I’m even beginning to believe myself.
Until I see him. The guy at the bar.
He’s wearing too much denim. Dirty denim tucked into big muddy boots. He has a moustache and greasy hair to his shoulders, and eyes that aren’t kind at all, not even close.
And he’s looking at me.
I suddenly know for certain that I’ll never find out what’s under Jack’s pink shirt. My breath hitches and my nerves coil in my belly, my heart already thumping at the thought that this may really be it.
Maybe denim guy will be the one to chase me.
Maybe he’ll be my monster.
“Earth to Abigail.” Jack’s laugh is so blissfully unaware. I smile as I jolt back to him.
“Sorry,” I say. “I must be tired. Long day.”
“Thursdays will do that to you. Delivery day, right?”
I nod. “Still learning the ropes. Product codes coming out of my ears.”
“You’ll get there,” he says kindly. “It’s a lot to take in.”
It’s not, but I smile anyway.
I haven’t even registered I’ve put my cutlery across my plate until he suggests we get the bill. The panic is instant and intense, my heart in my throat as I grab the dessert menu from the stand between us.