Maddie, a horror novelist, wakes and rolls to her side. She burrows under the purple, quilted comforter, not yet ready to begin her day — a floorboard creaks. The sound of deep, raspy breathing inside her bedroom startles her. Maddie’s eyes fly open, and her stomach sinks as she catches sight of a man at her bedside, looming in the darkness. The whites of his eyes gleam with lunacy, and a scream erupts from her throat.

The intruder, unfazed by her panic, tilts his head sideways. He continues to gawk in silence through his vast and vile eyeballs.

Maddie shrieks and scoots backward. Her heart races and her pulsing blood throbs in her ears. She trembles and forces a lump down her parched throat. The sound of the nefarious man’s sharp breaths sends chills down her spine.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

His absence of emotion disturbs her and fills her with a sense of dread. She studies his marred, albino skin; pockmarks and scars cover the surface of his face and arms.

The heinous man offers no discernible facial expression as he steps toward Maddie. She yells and attempts to flee.

His oversized, sun-starved hands grab ahold of her hair and yank her backward. Maddie screams and reaches behind her head to dig her nails into his flesh. The man disregards her efforts and drags her toward him. He cocks his head to the side then covers her mouth with a wet rag.

Maddie’s strength proves no match for his. She pleads for her life through the liquid-soaked cloth. Her consciousness dwindles, and she succumbs to oblivion.

*  *  *

Maddie’s head throbs and a musty stench permeates the air. Dampness on her clothing and skin cause her to shiver. Her ankle stings and she bolts upright. She finds several rats gnawing away at the flesh of her leg. Maddie screams and swipes at the varmints to force them away.

She jerks her head left and right to search her surroundings. Her heart skips a beat at the vision before her. She lays abandoned in a darkened room with stone walls and a low ceiling. The cold, brick floor chills her to the core, and her green flannel pajamas offer little warmth. Maddie shivers and wraps her arms around herself.

Rats run amok. They grind their teeth, and their squeaks echo throughout the room. Maddie spots several opened doorways that lead to stoned hallways with dim lighting. Shit! I’ve written about dark and dank places like this. I must be underground. She stands and glances around the clammy area.

Maddie looks at the arched doorways and tries to determine which to explore–which may offer a way out. A noise emits from one of the tunnels to her left. Goosebumps crawl up her spine, and she clenches her teeth.

Clank. Draagggggg.

Maddie gasps and jerks her head toward the door to her right to listen for movement. She’s met by silence, and sprints for it–away from the ghastly sounds that advance from the other direction.

Maddie halts at the arched opening to peer into the subterranean tunnels. Sparse floor lights illuminate the immediate area. Darkness fills the corridor to her left, so she proceeds with caution down the stone tunnel on her right.

She squeezes her hands into fists and checks over her shoulder as she moves. Odors of decay fill the atmosphere, and Maddie fights the urge to retch. A short distance down the hallway, Maddie hears a soft, hushed voice.

“Help… me.”

Maddie inches her way toward the female’s voice. She spots a small nook on her left, and halts. She bends to peek inside and finds an elderly lady, chained to the wall. Rats chew on the fragile lady’s flesh. Maddie shoos them away, but realizes the woman is beyond help; she’s devoid of color, and her breaths are shallow.

“Who are you?” Maddie begins. “What is this place–who chained you up?”

The voice comes in a whisper. “He’s… he’s… the… devil.”

Maddie’s jaw hangs open and her brows furrow. She reaches over to wipe the hair out of the dying lady’s face, then rubs her shoulder.

Clank. Draagggggg.

The sound causes Maddie to flinch. She looks down the hall, from the direction she came. Sounds of metal dragging across brick flooring fill the hallway. She lets out a sharp breath and her body tenses.

“Go,” the lady begins. “That’s him! You… must… run–now.”

“I’ll come back for you,” Maddie promises.

She steps out from the recessed area and bolts down the hallway, away from the sound.

Clank. Draagggggg.

Shivers run through Maddie’s body. She comes to another fork in the hallway and halts to peer left and right. Her eyes spot an ill-lit opening at the far end of the corridor on her right. Maddie dashes toward it and prays it offers an exit.

The noise–her abductor, continues toward her.

Clang. Draagggggg.

Maddie charges through the gloomy entrance. She nearly collides head-on into a row of metal bars. She gasps and realizes the small room serves as a jail cell for many filthy people. Some rock back in forth while others pound their heads against the wall. Decay and body odor suffuse the air. Maddie gags and covers her nose with a hand.

A few of the wretched inmates reach through the bars and grab ahold of her. They pull her backward and confine her against the metal. She struggles to free herself, but they succeed in yanking one of her arms inside their cell.

Maddie screams and begs them to stop. She stifles herself as she remembers the nefarious man is in pursuit. She quiets her cries and forces the surging panic to simmer.

“Please,” Maddie begs. “Please let me go, and I promise to get you some help!”

Warmth encompasses Maddie’s index finger. She turns toward it and sees it placed inside a prisoner’s mouth. The savage man bites into her flesh and bone with ferocity. Another scream slips from her lips and pierces the air. The inmate jerks his head back and forth, like a shark to prey, and tears her finger off.

Maddie’s arm snaps free, and she reels backward, dropping to the floor. Blood spurts from the stump. She uses her pajama shirt to cover the maimed hand and stanch the bleeding. Her chest rises and falls with rapid breaths as she sits on the floor, trying to regain her composure. It’s ok; it’s ok. I can still write without that finger. I need to survive and find my way out.

Maddie draws in a long inhale, then stands and stumbles. She moves toward the doorway in search of a way out.

The deranged men call out to the abductor.

“HERE…she’s in HERE!”

Clang. Draagggggg.

The abductor approaches. Maddie listens as the crazed inmates argue amongst each other.

“I get to eat her heart!”

“Fine, but her liver is mine.”

Horrified by their depravity, Maddie bolts out of the room and takes the nearest hallway.

She stumbles upon a room that offers more lighting than the tunnels. Maddie steps inside and soon regrets it. She spots tables that hold gutted bodies and bins filled with bloodied human organs. Her hands shoot up to her mouth to stifle a scream. A sour taste fills her throat; her stomach churns and threatens to retch.

Maddie backs out of the room, and dashes down the dimmed tunnel to resume her search for a way out. She veers left, then right, and hurries down another hallway. Maddie rounds corner after corner until she runs into the vast body of the sun-deprived man. The whites of his vile eyes glow. He cocks his head sideways and gives Maddie a vacant stare.

She looks at the chains that dangle from his waist. Fearful of ending up like the frail lady or the depraved prisoners, Maddie turns to run.

The marred man extends an albino arm and grabs ahold of Maddie’s hair. He yanks her backward and covers her face with a wet rag, pressing it firmly against her mouth and nose. Maddie flails then weakens. She fades into unconsciousness.

*  *  *

Maddie’s head throbs, but warmth cocoons her. She opens her eyes to a sea of purple–her purple, quilted comforter. She looks at her hands and finds all ten digits. She slips a leg out to looks at her ankle and finds flawless flesh, no rat bites. Oh, my God! It was a nightmare–the worst nightmare ever!

Relief floods her. She exhales then peels the covers off. Maddie climbs out of bed, in dire need of a strong cup of coffee.

Filled with motivation for her next horror story, Maddie decides to record every detail of her nightmare while it’s fresh. She grabs her journal and a pen off the top of her dresser.

Maddie smirks and scribbles several things down as she walks toward the kitchen. This story is gonna be a doozy!

Maddie rounds the corner to the kitchen and runs into an intruder donned in all black clothing. She gasps, and her eyes widen with fear.

The burglar drops Maddie’s two gem rings and a wad of cash he stole from her bedroom. He turns and glares at her through soulless eyes. “Too bad you woke. Now you gotta die!”

The color drains from Maddie’s face, and she screams for help.

The man raises a knife-wielding hand high into the air then lowers it. He thrusts the dagger deep inside her gut, and the impact causes Maddie’s journal to drop from her hands.

Blood spurts from her midsection and gushes to the floor. She places a hand around the embedded knife. Her body sways, and she glances at her blue journal, soaked in a river of red. Maddie collapses and surrenders to darkness.