The wires sprouted from Jed’s heart rate monitor, snagging in his chest hairs like a clew of worms. This bugged him, in more ways than one.
Sat on the edge of his bed in a research laboratory in Clodworth General Hospital, Jed’s upper torso had been draped in cybernetic tendrils and rigged up to machines, each monitoring his vital signs.
He glanced suspiciously over at the mirror across the room.
Jed knew he was being watched. So this must be what it feels like to be under observation, he thought. Like some kind of criminal.
He snorted, rubbing the tape strips on his chest which held the wires in place, and waited to be told when he could get some shut-eye.
Jed had been volunteered to spend a night in the sleep lab for a round of polysomnography—a scientific study of his sleeping patterns—after complaining to his doctor about frequent night terrors.
Often he would wake in the wee small hours wringing with sweat, his heart palpitating, yelling hysterically about demons clawing at his duvet cover.
He had hoped participating in this sleep study would help rid him of these nightmares. It felt like he’d been suffering with them for a lifetime.
Again, Jed gave the wires on his chest a gentle pat in an effort to feel more comfortable. He stared up at the clock.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep. Things had never been the same since his car accident several months ago.
Found comatose in a ditch off the M21 after a high-speed collision, paramedics successfully managed to revive Jed, but he soon wished they hadn’t.
It wasn’t long before they broke the news to him that a family in the other car had been killed in the accident. Jed was devastated. Alive, but devastated.
Ever since this tragedy and the spirit-sapping appearances he’d made in court to determine his guilt, Jed’s sleeping habits had been haunted with visions of demonic creatures creeping towards him from the very moment he drifted off.
At least he’s in the right place now, he thought to himself, to maybe find some answers to why his nightmares were so terrifyingly vivid. Well, it’s better than jail at least.
The muted blips on the EEG monitor by his bedside were monitoring his brain activity, thanks to the dozens of electrodes lining his scalp.
Once asleep, the electrical signals generated by his brain when his nightmares begun would be recorded to help his doctor assess any abnormalities. Perhaps this was a way of ruling out long-term brain damage from the accident, he reasoned.
Jed gawped glassy-eyed at the wavy lines on the screen, trying to make sense of what they all meant.
All of a sudden, he heard a man’s voice over the loudspeaker.
‘OK, I take it you’re ready? Of course you are, yes, you’re ready. Now this may seem strange but…’ The voice paused for a long moment. ‘Everything’s going to be fine, just lie back and relax. You’ll be drifting off to sleep in no time.’
Jed looked in the direction of the one-way mirror and gave the person behind it a polite nod.
The lights dimmed. Jed gently scratched his nasal cannula before shimmying round in his hospital gown, tilting himself onto the bed.
Bringing his head down to rest upon the pillow, his breathing grew shallower as he tried to quieten his mind.
The ceiling fan hung above him, its blades still, but looming ominously.
With the room now in total darkness, he lay alone with his thoughts.
There was no use fighting it. Jed closed his eyes.
The not-too-distant sound of an air horn blared loudly in Jed’s ears and woke him up with a start.
His eyes darted open, alert.
He sat up and quickly realised he was no longer in the lab any more—strangely enough, his bed was now outside in the open, right in the middle of the M21 motorway.
Jed turned his nose to the air and took a sharp breath inward, blue skies above him.
He felt the breeze of the English countryside brush past his cheeks—it smelled like horse shit.
The air horn rang out again, much louder this time.
Startled into a panic, Jed quickly looked behind him.
And there it was.
Barrelling down the motorway towards the bed was a lorry, speeding along at 50mph, and heading straight for him.
Jed yelped and threw the covers off himself, hurling his body off the bed and onto the hard surface of the concrete road.
With the lorry just seconds away, Jed commando-crawled along the ground in his hospital gown.
Suddenly, the enormous vehicle ploughed into the bed behind him, narrowly missing Jed by a hair’s breadth.
With a deafening crash, the sheer force of the 44-tonne juggernaut colliding with the bed shattered the steel bed frame upon impact, crumpling it to pieces as if it were nothing but a dirt-cheap clothes horse.
Peeping up, Jed glimpsed the lorry’s tyres mow over the mattress like an over-eager bulldozer, its mud-caked wheels flinging up springs and mangled bed linen high into the air.
As the wind started to blow tufts of memory foam against the motorway’s median barrier, Jed watched as the lorry continued on its journey down the road, leaving behind a trail of decimated slats and spoiled bedsheets.
Jed made his way over to a grassy verge at the side of the road and surveyed the damage.
The motorway before him was now strewn with debris, the hospital bed now broke into obliterated remnants and spread out as far as his eye could see.
Stood by the roadside, Jed turned his head away and noticed that behind him was a ditch running parallel to the motorway.
It was then he saw two crashed cars lying forgotten down the gulley, both caught in a mangled embrace with their bumpers totalled beyond repair.
Smoke was slowly billowing from the engine of the first car, filling the country air with the stench of burning rubber.
Jed hurriedly traipsed downhill to get a closer look at the two crashed vehicles, but as he approached, he noticed they were not abandoned at all. They were occupied.
Taken aback, he recognised the first car immediately—it was his.
As he got closer, Jed could see himself sat in the driver’s seat, limp-necked and unconscious, still breathing but with his lungs heaving.
He inspected his lookalike with trepidation, frankly stupefied.
Jed nervously walked over to the second vehicle—a larger saloon car—and immediately saw the two bodies of a young mother and a father in the front seats.
Clearly dead, the mother was slumped over onto the dash, her auburn hair lathered with blood.
The father’s face, eyes wide open, had turned a shade of deathly blue like a block of drift ice.
As Jed exhaled anxiously, he could see the chill of his own breath in front of him.
Beginning to tremble, Jed shakily moved closer to the rear of the second vehicle and peered through the side window.
In a high-back booster laid the body of a dead toddler, slumped to its side, lifeless. Jed began to weep.
Staggering backwards and tripping over his feet clumsily, Jed wailed incomprehensibly. He fell.
Quickly picking himself up, he decided to run.
Jed fled from the crash site, sprinting away from the ditch and up to a hill, heading towards the farmland nearby.
Vaunting himself over a wooden fence, Jed soon found himself running aimlessly through a field.
He sprinted along rows of loamy soil, each tilled into neat columns but with no green crops or vegetation in sight.
As he ran, the horizon ahead of Jed was little more than a brown expanse of dirt terrain, apart from a lone farmhouse he could see looming in the distance. He ran towards it, desperately desiring shelter.
Jed began to hear the noise of bedevilled shrieks all around him, the shrill cry of beasts lurking in the shadows.
He knew that sound. He’d heard it before. He ran faster.
Looking up to the sky, Jed saw it was now turning dark, like the grim colour of ash. It started to rain.
As slithers of rainwater fell from the sky, the dirt floor beneath him began to shake violently.
Jed stopped in his tracks and spread his legs wide apart to steady himself.
The ground shook at the mercy of an earth tremor as the raindrops soaked into the muddy tundra before him.
And then, as if summoning something from the depths below, the soil began to bulge.
They were coming from him.
Watching as they clawed their way up from the dirt, Jed witnessed the demons make their way to the surface, all blackened and charred, with eyes which glowed like lava dots.
These hellish creatures screeched like hyenas hungering for meat, clambering for a foothold as they flailed rakish arms erratically.
Jed’s eyes widened. They looked just as they did in monastic scripture—thin and wiry, beaky goblin-like noses, elven pointed ears, foul-coloured fangs—made all the more terrifying by pained, tormented gurns which let out high-pitched howls.
As the demons finally took to their feet, the dirt trickled down their bony skulls, their hunched posture poised. They arched their necks towards Jed menacingly.
With clawing fingers outstretched they lurched their way towards him.
Jed screamed and fell backwards, and the demons leapt on top of him like a murder of crows hankering for the jelly of a worm’s innards.
Their dark, pronged fingers scratched at Jed’s chest, wrestling for dominance.
His heart racing, Jed was able to free himself from the grip of one of them by kicking against them, frantically rolling away from the fracas.
The demons wailed like banshees as Jed scrambled to his feet.
No time to hesitate, Jed continued to run towards the farmhouse in the distance, leaving the demons behind him.
The clamouring desperation of clasping claws seemed to come within inches of his gait, as Jed sprinted as fast as he could to escape them.
No doubt giving chase, the demons’ dark, shadowy presence was pervasive, and Jed feared they’d be hot on his heels every step of the way.
He summoned as much stamina as he could from the depths of his soul, pushing himself to run.
He heard the devilish screeching begin to grow distant, but still Jed kept pace.
Now closer to the farmhouse door, he could see it was just an empty, wooden barn, but it at least offered him sanctuary.
Moving fast and without looking back, Jed galloped up to the barn door and placed his quivering hand on the door handle.
As Jed flung open the door to the farmhouse and stepped inside, he was hit by a blinding fluorescent light.
Shielding his eyes, he shut the door behind him and squinted through his fingers, trying to take in his new surroundings.
With its gleaming white walls, it was immediately clear to Jed this was no barn.
The room was much smaller than he expected, for a start, and a lingering scent of disinfectant filled the air.
His eyesight returning, Jed could see a corkboard on the wall, peppered with post-it notes.
A bookshelf stood proudly in the corner containing books on Carl Jung and Oneirology, and next to it a half-open filing cabinet bulged with medical research documents.
Jed also saw a computer desk and an empty swivel chair positioned opposite a familiar-looking glass pane.
It was then he realised.
Somehow, Jed was back in the hospital, but this time, he had found himself in the room on the other side of the one-way mirror.
He stepped over to the glass pane and looked through it, puzzled.
As if he’d stepped back in time, Jed could see himself sat on the hospital bed in the observation lab, all wired up and waiting to be given the signal to sleep.
It was eerie as he watched his doppelgänger cast eyes in his direction, almost looking directly at him.
Obviously, Jed knew he couldn’t be seen, as his twin’s vision was obstructed by the mirror.
Jed plonked himself down in the swivel chair and sighed, mystified by what was going on. He wondered what to do.
On the desk in front of him, Jed saw a red button which operated the loudspeaker. He pressed it and held it in.
‘OK, I take it you’re ready?’ Jed found himself saying, rolling his eyes as he realised how stupid that question sounded. ‘Of course you are, yes, you’re ready. Now this may seem strange but…’
For a brief moment, Jed considered telling himself the truth about what had just happened.
That the man he thought was on the other side of the mirror was actually himself.
That he would awake in his bed on the M21 and almost be run over by a lorry.
That he would soon stumble across the scene of his car crash and be fleeing hellish creatures clasping at his heels.
No, that would all sound ridiculous, Jed thought. It wouldn’t make any sense. And even if he did tell him, he’d never believe it.
Instead, he tried to offer reassurance.
‘Everything’s going to be fine,’ Jed said into the loudspeaker, a bare-faced lie if ever there was one. ‘Just lie back and relax. You’ll be drifting off to sleep in no time.’
In the other room, he watched as the other Jed made himself comfortable on the bed.
From the desk, Jed could see a panel of switches on the wall to his right. He reached over and dimmed the lights.
Jed watched his doppelgänger settle down to sleep for the night, resigning himself to meet a fate he could not explain.
With the room now darkening, Jed could see his face reflecting back in the glass pane in front of him.
His face contorted.
As shadows fell around his shoulders, a piercing squall filled the room.
His eyes flashed red.
The glass cracked.
© 2019 Luke Edley
Humorous fiction writer, poet and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.