The window shutter slamming open and closed in the sudden wind was what woke her up. Disoriented and in between sleeping and being fully awake, Ana rolled over and brushed her hair off her face, curling up into a ball, and pulling the covers up over herself, having kicked them off in her sleep. It had been unbearably humid when she’d gotten into bed for the night, but it wasn’t unusual for the temperature to take a swift decline during the smaller hours, at all. After living in the desert for so many years already, it was something she was accustomed to, at any rate.
As she started to drift off again, the shutter slammed shut again and she startled awake properly this time. Groaning, she pushed the covers aside, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, her bare feet touching the cool stone floor. She frowned as she crossed the moonlit room in the dark to go and close it. The wind out there must be bad, she thought to herself, I could have sworn I closed that properly.
“I’m serious, Ana! You’ve got to start being more security conscious. How many times have I told you?”
She rolled her eyes at him and giggled.
“I said I was sorry didn’t I? Jeez, chill out DAD.”
His eyebrows furrowed and he gave her ‘the look’ then and she threw her hands up in mock surrender.
“Alright, alright. Sorry, I’ll try not to forget again.”
“It’s for your safety, Ana, that’s all. Yours and mine.”
She nodded and crossed the short distance between them to slip her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest for a moment. Maybe she’d surprised him with the action because he didn’t return the embrace right away, but moments later he did, wrapping his arms around her small frame in a tight bear hug. When he pulled away, he stepped back and looked down at her, a look on his face of both amusement and affection.
“What was that for, then?”
“I love you, stupid. Isn’t a girl allowed to give her big brother a hug, sometimes?”
She had to pull the shutter inwards with more effort than she’d thought, fighting against the wind which sought to whip it outwards and open again, and it slammed shut with such force it was almost a wonder it didn’t crack in two, so she fastened the latches quickly, and turned to go back to bed again. She froze in terror, her eyes wide and she choked back a startled scream when the figure standing in front of her pushed the hood back to reveal it’s face.
She shook her head from side to side, and started to back away, but two steps backwards and her back was against the wall. She squeezed her eyes closed and started to talk to herself, uttering the words out loud.
“It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, it’s just a …”
“Look at me, little Ana.”
And although it sounded like his voice, there was something simply wrong about it; there was an undertone, an unnatural grating quality to her that made her feel cold and fearful. She wanted to scream, and shout at it to go away. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but then it was just there, touching her, a cold hand underneath her chin and the feeling of it’s cold fingers on her face made her skin crawl, but it forced her to open her eyes and she dared not believe that this was happening, that he was in any way, shape or form real. If she believed that, then she would know she’d almost certainly lost her mind, but she opened her mouth and spoke to it, to him, and her mouth and throat were so dry they barely came out as more than a whisper.
“You’re … you’re dead. You’re not here. You’re dead and buried.”
It cocked it’s head to one side and grinned at her, a grin she’d seen dozens of times, one that could only belong to him, but the gesture itself made by this, this … thing made her feel sick, and for a moment her head started to spin and she thought she might actually vomit, but all she could do was stand there, backed into a wall, with her hand over her mouth, staring dumbly at this twisted visage of the late Valgoren Blackcrest as it laughed and whether it was the vision or the sound itself, or a combination of both, she felt the room spin for just a few short seconds before everything went black and she lost consciousness.