Paul awoke suddenly, bed drenched in sweat. He looked around him to get his bearing. He couldn’t see much. There was no power.

‘Thanks Nepa!’ he thought. He was alone in his room. He glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table; it read 5:02am. He sighed, if he slept for an hour more, he’d have to get to work. He ran a hand through very short hair and rubbed his eyes, what was the dream he was having again? He could have sworn that he was having a dream. His heart relaxed, he hadn’t even realized it was beating fast, he took a deep breath and gave the room another once over. Whether because he was afraid of some unseen intruder or because he just liked peering into the darkness, he had no idea.

‘I better get up’ he thought. He willed himself up, swung his legs off the bed and got to his feet. He felt a sudden chill. He looked around him as if expecting some unknown assailant to sneak up on him. He shook his head.

‘No more Resident’s evil past 11pm’ he vowed under his breath. He also figured that it could easily be the vest and briefs he wore that caused the chill. He thought about changing into track pants and a warm cardigan, but one thought of his monumentally tousled wardrobe and the stress to find anything in this almighty darkness put him off. He decided to step out of the room like that. He stumbled along to the door and let himself out. The room led into the parlor. It was also pitch black here. He waited a while for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness. It did and he could take in the parlor. He smiled.

It was the 24th of December, it was Christmas eve. Paul loved Christmas, he had loved it ever since he was a kid and as an adult, he prepared for it eagerly, he was going to be alone this Christmas mostly because of work and there was also that tinny problem of dead parents.

 

He was just going to go to Bayo’s house and spend Christmas with his family. They were basically brothers, so it wasn’t a bother to them. He had decorated the house anyways; he had a tree, cheesy lights, little santas swinging from the tree, an enormous star at the top of the tree, a life-sized santa standing beside the tree. It was one of those inflatable ones that… well… inflated. He made his way to the kitchen. Getting there, he heard the hum of the fridge.

‘good, the idiots have brought the light’ he thought. He went to the light switch and turned on the lights, the bulb washed the room in orange light. Paul looked around his dainty kitchen, instinctively, he pulled open the fridge. Nothing. Not that he expected to find anything, he just loved looking in the fridge. He sighed. One day he was going to have a well-stocked fridge, not that he was doing badly now, but he could do a lot better.

He walked over to the hanging cupboards and opened one, he brought out the coffee he had there, it had been there for ages, but hey! He opened the last sachet of milk and turned on the electric kettle. As he waited for it to heat up, he thought about its owner, his last girlfriend. She’d brought it on one of those sleepover weekends and had left it there after the fight. He turned it off before it clicked off, he didn’t want the water too hot and scalding. He made his coffee and made his way into the parlor switching on lights as he went. He headed for the balcony, pulling aside the sliding glass he stepped out. The entrance to the balcony was huge, it could easily take a big jeep. The balcony itself was quite small, just a tiny little alcove. Paul didn’t rest against the ledge. He was afraid of heights, strangely enough, he loved views from high places. His fear of heights had been caused by one place; Apapa amusement park. He had been 5 when he took a ride on the ferris wheel with his brother.

Trust Nigeria, the ride stopped mid-turn. Paul and his brother where at the highest point, everyone had looked like ants, it was fascinating. He had leaned over to get a closer look, that was when the metal guard broke. The terrified paul had started to fall when he felt strong arms grab his leg. He was bawling as he screamed at the top of his lungs for his brother not to drop him. His brother had regardless of the situation smiled and said

 

“I won’t let you fall.” Paul had been soothed. His brother had helped him back up and Paul had since then feared heights. His brother was dead now, bless his soul. Paul stood in the cold night air. He was on the fifth floor of a high rise building, personally, he would have gone for a lower floor, but this was all that was available and it was also in proximity to his office. Repairs were ongoing including some parts of the balcony. For instance, some parts of the ledge were crumbing and needed immediate repairs. He sipped at his coffee… and spat it out immediately! No sugar! He shook his head and made his way past the life-sized santa to the kitchen where he emptied the coffee into the sink, he made a mental note to buy sugar when next he went out.

 

Without warning, the Christmas lights in the parlor came on belting out the notes for “we wish you a merry Christmas”. Paul started. He hadn’t put that on. He moved out of the kitchen and watched in puzzlement and fascination as the cheesy red, yellow, blue and green lights alternated in a merry array round the Christmas tree. Paul shrugged, the wire must be touching or something. He stretched; bed seemed like a very good idea now. He made his way, past the life-sized clown and off to his room. paul stopped at the door of his room, the hairs at the back of his neck stood alert, his heart was racing. Life-sized clown? Paul turned back slowly, sure enough, a clown was looking right back at him wielding a knife. If it wasn’t so weird, it would have been funny. The clown was in circus garb, a garishly painted face and a smile that was beyond unnerving. It didn’t speak and merely looked at the petrified Paul.

 

 

Paul willed his legs to move, the poor things were probably high because they didn’t respond. Then the clown moved. The earphones seemed to have been pulled off Paul’s legs because they responded immediately, Paul darted for his room, but the clown was faster. It pulled Paul and swung him with amazing force out the sliding doors (which paul noted with dismay had been left open) and into the balcony. His back hit the ledge hard and fast. Disoriented, he tried to get his bearing, only for his eyes to widen as the ledge gave way. Paul was staring into an abyss, it seemed there was no bottom or ground to fall on. He felt himself falling, just as a pair of strong arms grabbed his legs.

 

Paul looked up gratefully at the clown. The smile never left its face, it had a Cheshire cat quality to it, Paul didn’t like it and he didn’t like hanging upside down either. The clown was holding him effortlessly, the smile menacing in nature, unforgiving and downright creepy. The clown pulled Paul halfway up and kept pulling. Paul’s heart rate came down as he felt closer to safety. The clown stopped, looked at Paul still suspended in midair and let go again! Fear, outrage, panic and dread settled in on Paul as the clown and his balcony began to look smaller and smaller. The fear in Paul was immeasurable, he was falling! The realization hit him and he screamed.

Paul awoke suddenly, bed drenched in sweat. He looked around him to get his bearing. He looked at the time. It was 5:07am. He was scared, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember why. He could have sworn he’d just had a dream. His heart rate returned to normal and he tried to calm down.

‘whatever it is, it was just a dream’ He thought to himself.

“A dream you say.” A voice said from beside him. Paul nearly jumped out of his skin in fright. When he saw the person sitting on the hard, straight backed chair beside his bed, he was even more spooked. The figure looked like him, but something was missing: a mouth.

“Yet you wonder how I speak.” It seemed to be screaming in Paul’s mind as well as his ears, he just stared terrified at the creature beside him. He wanted to talk but didn’t trust his voice to come out straight. He opened his dry mouth to speak, then he closed it again.

“Merry Christmas in advance” said Mouthless. Paul imagined he was grinning. He finally found the strength to talk.

“Who are you? What is this? Am I dreaming?” Mouthless just stared. Paul vaguely noticed the Christmas lights and decorations of his neighbors, he wondered if they had any weird visitors like this.

“I’m dreaming, aren’t i?” Paul said

“Are you? What differentiates between a dream and reality?”

“I’m dreaming.”

“Then why are you scared?” was the retort. Paul kept quiet, he was scared!

“When you dream, it all feels so real doesn’t it? The emotion is real, the anticipation of danger is real, the fear is real, the pain is real. You can see smell touch and feel. Do you think I’m real?”  Paul didn’t know how to answer that. He did wonder about the figure’s words though, who was to say this wasn’t reality. He wasn’t really sure of anything right now.

“No!” He said “I’m dreaming; I have to wake up.”

“Go ahead, give it a try.” Said Mouthless. Paul at motionless, maybe if he willed himself to wake, he would. Nothing happened still. Mouthless turned towards Paul in a slow, creepy way.

“I’m going to eat you now.” Paul panicked. He was sweating profusely, his heart was racing and thudding painfully against his chest. Suddenly a rip as wide as from ear to ear, appeared on mouthless and he leaned into Paul. Paul knew he should run, but he was petrified with fear. Paul screamed but didn’t wake up, he jerked violently with the hopes of waking but nothing was working. He looked into the rip that was devouring him and saw nothingness, Paul screamed again.

Paul awoke suddenly, bed drenched in sweat. He looked around him to get his bearing. He looked at the time. It was 5:05am. He was scared, he couldn’t remember why exactly, but he knew he wasn’t going back to bed. He got up hurriedly and searched around his room randomly for signs of the boogey man or whatever. He went into the parlor, everything looked intact, the life-sized santa, the tree, the Christmas lights were on, singing “hark the herald angels sing” with their flashy display of lights. It was Christmas eve and Paul smiled.

He loved Christmas. He watched television randomly and started getting ready for work, he might as well get there early. It was a bank, so he had to work today. He dressed himself, singing Christmas songs as he went along. He had an odd feeling that he was forgetting something, but he bit it back. As dawn approached, Paul calmed down even more, he didn’t know why, something about the morning perhaps. He made his way to work and was there early. He walked into his office, where he had a picture of a clown on the wall. It was the only picture in the office and for some reason it creeped him out. It had this smile that was just unnerving and cold. He sat at his desk and was just beginning to get into the flow of work when his secretary, Rita, arrived.

“Good Morning sir.”

“Good Morning Rita. What is it?”

“Ah, Miss Esther is here to see you.” Paul smiled. Today was going to be a good day.

“Send her in.” he said.

 

The bedside alarm clock read 5:01am. Paul lay in bed. Rolling slightly with a lazy smile on his face, he muttered in his sleep.

“Hello Esther, how are you?” the smile remained for a couple of seconds, then his lips began to wobble, his facial expression registered fear and he thrashed around. Paul screamed a blood curdling scream

Paul awoke suddenly, bed drenched in sweat…….