September knew she should be sleeping soundly by now. She looked at the clock face; it said two-twenty-two a.m. A bat buzzed overhead, above her bed—it did that every night after she turned out the light: it flew into the house through the rickety attic trap-door, took a turn overhead, then fleetingly returned to its own home. The electric fan ran on low, creating a slight breeze that barely lifted the bat’s wings a little further than usual, and with the subtle illumination from the nightlight in the hall, she could see the creature’s underside. It made her think of death. Nighttime made her think of death. Death of the body, yes, but even more than that, death of purity and innocence, death of the spirit.
* * *
The black hole, feverishly flapping, suddenly approached her, then, equally as suddenly, swerved away. September tried to bury her entire body, tip to toes, under the covers; slowly, she allowed herself to open her eyes: she had believed she would feel safer in hiding, but her body was damp, and the covers clung to her as a winding sheet clings to a sweaty, recently embalmed and bound corpse on a simmering summer day—uncontrollable claustrophobia overcame September. She re-shut her eyes and returned the sheet to shoulder-height, once again attempting to ignore her trepidatious impulses.
At first she didn’t register it . . . At age twenty-eight, she could split her personality into perfect halves and remain sane, could talk to herself as if she were two persons: parent and little child. “All gone, all gone . . . It’s all right . . . It was only a nightmare—nightmares aren’t real, dear . . .” It almost felt like Mama sat beside her on the bed, tracing smooth, cool fingers along her face, her chest, her ribs. She wished so hard for her mama’s presence that she reached out and found she clutched at nothing but air. She drew her hand inward, to study it, but when she opened her eyes, released her fist and stared at the palm of her right hand, she discovered that she held the hole. It fluttered weakly in angry helplessness.
“You cannot escape now,” she told it, as she attempted to sound sure and strong. “You have no power over me anymore. You are trapped—trapped within my grasp.”
“And you are trapped in fear of me,” countered the dark void.
“Never!” She flung her arm extravagantly, and the void flew away.
It grew gargantuan, no longer round and quivering but an indefinable and vicious mass, and hovered atop her bed, mockingly observing what kind of moral and emotional strength she possessed. It transformed shape, taking on the appearance of a knife, a gun, a man she knew as “Uncle” who crept into her bedroom after twilight whenever Mama left him to baby-sit her; Mama hadn’t meant to lie about the nightmares, but they were real—they truly were real. That was why September liked to live alone: the only nightmares that could pursue her still were irreverent, haunting imaginings. Imaginings, were they not? Was it not? It turned back into a recognizable black hole . . .
Only imaginings . . . Nothing but imaginings . . .
“Never again!” September cried. “I will never allow you to haunt me again!”
The void started to shrink, and finally it returned to its original form—once more it became a bat—a helpless, frustrated bat, as afraid to feel her presence there as she had been to feel its, as it frantically searched for its home. Had she really caught it, touched it, or had her fears merely hypnotized her? She gazed at her still-raised arm, and felt chill-prickles run through it.
The air from the fan felt unnaturally frigid—the same as Mama’s tracing fingers used to. Oh, Mama, you never understood, because you could never let yourself believe.
September shook, but she could not cry: instinctively she knew she had survived her final dark night.